Craig Sjodin/ABC
Michele Stueven
May 07, 2014 05:15 PM

Charlie White hasn’t earned success without a struggle.

The Dancing with the Stars contestant and Olympic gold medalist, 26, has been living with asthma since he was a baby.

“I’ve always had to train harder than others to get the oxygen to my muscles because of my lung capacity,” he told PEOPLE during a break from rehearsals with partner Sharna Burgess. “I have to push myself past the point of being comfortable.”

The whole situation has been difficult, not just because of White’s health.

“At one point I had to get a therapeutic usage exemption form and prove that I had asthma,” White said of the hassle of participating in the Olympics with his condition. “After that they would always test and measure the dosage I had in my system very carefully.”

In addition, “Being an athlete in a cold-weather sport is really difficult to deal with the asthma,” he said. “When you use the inhaler it has a little bit of synthetic adrenaline in it, and it kind of gets you going. But in a sport like figure skating where you want to be very under control, you have to find a great balance between being able to breathe enough and feeling like you’re yourself. My doctor was able to find the correct medication for me to help me stay relaxed and calm, but at the same time be able to perform at my peak.”

It was during a trip to the beach with his family as a kid that his parents realized the intensity of the situation.

“I was waving at them and they were saying, ‘Oh look how much fun he’s having!’ ” he recalled. “And then I just fell on my face. They came over to me and I was blue and wasn’t breathing, so we had to start taking it seriously from then on.”

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