Jackie Crowther, a 16-year old junior at Linfield Christian High School, is in Costa Rica playing in the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup for the Mexican National team. The US team failed to qualify for the 16-team tournament.
Crowther has dual citizenship since her mother was born in Mexico. While at a national league tournament in Las Vegas, a coach for Olympiado National – Mexico’s National Olympics – recruited her to be part of a US team sponsored by IME (Instituto de Los Mexicanos En El Exterior). IME is involved in keeping dual citizens engaged with Mexico; the team consisted of players from Northern and Southern California. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The team won the gold medal and Crowther scored two goals in the 2-0 final.
The women’s national coach watched all the games and subsequently invited a few players to attend the National Soccer Training Center in Mexico City for five weeks over the summer. Crowther was one of the few invitees.
She was invited back several times to train for the CONCACAF Qualifier (North American, Central American and Caribbean nations) in early November. Two days prior to departure, Crowther was notified that she was not being invited back due to a breathing attack she had during the summer camp.
Crowther had been diagnosed many years earlier with exercise-induced asthma; however her condition was not helped by usual asthma medications. Crowther managed to fight through her breathing issues with extreme effort.
Upon her dismissal, Crowther immediately visited a specialist in Washington State, who determined that she had been misdiagnosed. She actually has Paradoxical Vocal Chord Dysfunction (VCD), a functional breathing disorder characterized by tightening of the vocal chords during the breathing cycle, resulting in a feeling of shortness of breath. VCD is verified by spirometry (breathing test) and laryngoscopy to confirm the abnormal closure of the vocal cords. The condition is a breathing inefficiency treated behaviorally (relaxation techniques, biofeedback, and psychotherapy) and not with medication.
Due to the similarity of triggers and symptoms, VCD is often confused with asthma and frequently misdiagnosed by physicians. Symptoms may include: shortness of breath or difficulty getting air into or out of the lungs; tightness in the throat or chest; a feeling of choking or suffocation; noisy breathing; hoarse voice. VCD symptoms are not affected by asthma medicines that open up breathing tubes (bronchodilators like albuterol). According to Dr. Stephen Tiles, an asthma and VCD specialist, the symptoms are not dangerous and do not pose a cardiovascular or pulmonary risk.
Crowther underwent training sessions to control her VCD symptoms while her father, Bob, and various physicians sent letters to the Mexican coaches and team physician to convince them that her condition would not hinder her play. The coaches were unwilling to take chances for the World Cup qualifier in Jamaica.
Crowther, a multi-sport athlete, returned to Linfield and in the interim period qualified for the State high school cross-country finals for the third time. Crowther had been named league Runner of the Year twice in her three-year career. Crowther is also a 4.2 GPA student and plans to study neuroscience.
The State finals conflicted with major soccer tournaments, so Crowther did not attend. Instead, she played 13 games in 16 days on the west coast and in North Carolina. The games included contests against the prior national champions and the current #1 team in the U.S.
The altitude in Mexico City, the stress of the competition, and the air quality had exacerbated her condition leading to the previous episode in the summer before she had methods of coping with the VCD symptoms.
The letter-writing campaign and her performance at elite level competitions convinced the coaches of the Mexican National Team to allow her to return with the proviso that she would be sent home immediately if there were issues.
Crowther survived multiple levels of cuts. The last elimination was bittersweet: her longtime teammate and roommate, Jessica Moreno, a junior defender from Temecula Valley High School did not survive the final cut. Moreno had made the team going to the World Cup qualifier that Crowther had been cut from for her medical condition.
Crowther is now in Costa Rica entering pool play with the Mexican National Team. They are scheduled to take on Colombia on March 16, People’s Republic of China on March 19, and Nigeria on March 23. Quarterfinals are March 27; semi-finals are March 31; and Finals are on April 4. Games will be streamed on ESPN3.