The outdoors always had a pull on Heather Johnson.
Growing up, “we used to come up here every summer and hike pretty much the same trails in Montana,” she recalled. “I’m from New Hampshire, so we were always into the outdoors, hiking, hunting, that kind of thing.”
Since moving to the Columbia Falls area early last year, the certified surgical technician has trekked to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, finished a 26-mile hike along Swiftcurrent Pass and the Highline Trail, and probed many other routes by foot, snowshoe and ski. She has her sights set on the area’s tallest mountains and hopes to start “peak-bagging” soon.
Anyone attempting these hikes needs fitness and willpower. But Johnson also has to manage asthma every step of the way.
Nearly 25 million Americans live with this respiratory condition, which inflames the airways and can make breathing difficult — especially when exercising or moving through the pollen, smoke and cold weather of northwest Montana.
Johnson, 42, has had asthma since childhood, but found her symptoms worsening around 2010.
“I had pneumonia twice, and it was after those two bouts of pneumonia that I really started struggling…