Stress Urinary Incontinence: No Match for Bonnie Blair
Advocacy The Olympian and legendary speed skater faced some tough opponents, but one challenge of a different sort threatened to forever compromise her quality of life.
Shortly after the birth of her first child, in 1998, Bonnie Blair knew she had a problem. One day, while on a run, the only American woman to win five Olympic gold medals at the Winter Games suddenly experienced leakage. She started limiting her liquid intake and going to the bathroom before hitting the trails. Still, the issue persisted.
“It wasn't just exercise; it happened if I sneezed or coughed or, let's say, I squatted down to get something from the lower shelf of the refrigerator,” Blair recalls. “Finally I got up the guts to say something to my doctor.”
Blair was diagnosed with stress urinary incontinence (SUI), the loss of urine after any movement that puts stress on the bladder. Although some women suffering from SUI can benefit from kegel exercises, the use of weights and electrical stimulation to strengthen their pelvic muscles, Blair wasn't one of them.
“'It was one of those taboos. Nobody talks about it.'”
Instead, she underwent a minimally invasive outpatient procedure involving a mesh sling that provides support to the middle of the urethra. Blair says the treatment cured her condition. “I'll never forget when I went for a run for the first time after that,” she says. “The smile on my face—you could probably see from miles away.”
Advice to others
As a spokesperson, Blair went on to lead a national campaign to educate women about SUI. She says it's crucial to speak up, although she recalls not wanting to have that awkward conversation.
“It was one of those taboos. Nobody talks about it,” Blair admits, adding, “I went almost a year before I even said anything to my husband. It was embarrassing.” She encourages others to get help sooner, rather than later, for a problem that affects countless women.
“SUI is more common than you realize. Go to your doctor and be honest and open about what you're experiencing.”