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Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

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Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

MORE: Michael Johnson: My advice to Usain Bolt on retirement

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Michael Johnson recovering from mini stroke

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Olympic track great Michael Johnson says he is recovering from a mini stroke last week.

The 50-year-old sprinter says on Twitter he “rather surprisingly” was stricken with a transient ischemic attack, known as a TIA or mini stroke. According to the Mayo Clinic, a TIA usually lasts only a few minutes and causes no permanent damage.

Johnson writes that he has been “cleared of any heart issues.” He adds that he is back home with family and has “already made great progress on my road to recovery.”

Johnson is a four-time Olympic gold medalist. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, he became the only male athlete to win the 200m and 400m at the same Olympics. He had held world and Olympic records in those events.

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Michael Johnson: My advice to Usain Bolt was to retire after Rio

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Years ago, Usain Bolt asked Michael Johnson why Johnson retired near the top of his game after repeating as Olympic 400m champion in Sydney in 2000.

“Listen, I’ve done everything in this sport. I was on top. Why should I continue?” Bolt recalled Johnson telling him.

“So you accomplish everything you want to accomplish,” Bolt continued in an early 2016 interview. “At some point, you just say, listen, let me leave the sport.”

If it was up to Johnson, Bolt wouldn’t have competed at all this year, which culminated in a third-place finish in the world championships 100m (video) and a torn hamstring in the 4x100m relay (video).

“Last year, my advice to him was stop after Rio,” Johnson said while in India this week. “But he left it and went one year too long. That’s very difficult to do when there is not the motivation anymore.”

Still, Johnson said it doesn’t matter that Bolt was beaten in his last races.

“Walk down the street right now, three months after the world championships, and you say to someone, all right, so these are the athletes that were in the 100m final in 2017 in London, which one won?” Johnson said. “If they see Usain Bolt‘s name there, they’re going to say Usain Bolt. … The point I’m making is, he has established such an amazing career that even though that championship didn’t end the way that he wanted it to, he’s still going to have the most amazing record ever in the history of sprinting. So I think he afforded himself the opportunity to have that situation not end it the way that he wanted it to.”

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