Michael Johnson: 'Olympic mindset' helped recovery from stroke

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Watch: Johnson 'really lucky' after suffering a stroke

Sprinting great Michael Johnson said he had to apply an "Olympic mindset" during his recovery from a stroke.

The American, 51, says he is "pretty much back to normal" after suffering the illness in September.

Johnson, who won 200m Olympic gold at the Atlanta Games in 1996 in 19.32 seconds, said the same distance in hospital took him 15 minutes.

"I was achieving tiny incremental improvements and it gave me hope," Johnson told the BBC.

"I told my wife I was confident of making a full recovery and not only will I do that, I will do it faster than anybody else has done before.

"I knew then the recovery was going to be down to hard work, focus and commitment to the process. That is something I am very familiar with.

"Almost three months on now from the stroke and I am pretty much back to normal and back to work.

"I am feeling good and I was really lucky. It has been quite an experience."

Michael Johnson after winning Olympic 200m gold in 1996
Michael Johnson was once the fastest man in the world over 200m

'Not knowing about recovery is scary'

Johnson won 4x400m relay gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and followed it up with gold medals in the 200m and 400m four years later.

At the 2000 Games in Sydney, he defended his 400m title becoming - at 33 years 12 days - the oldest champion of any track event shorter than 5,000m.

Johnson said he had finished a training session at home when he felt a "a strange tingling down my arm and left side". He "decided not to take any chances" and headed straight to hospital.

"After the MRI scan, I almost fell off the table. I could not walk or move my left leg," he added. "The numbness of my arm was intense too. I could not feel my arm and moving my fingers was problematic.

"It was a lot of emotions. Once I was told I had suffered a stroke and I could not walk things get immediately real.

"You start to think: 'What is my life going to be like going forward? What is my quality of life going to be like? Will I be able to dress myself? Will I be able to take care of myself or will my loved ones have to take care of me?'

"I had a great team of doctors and they said that is what all stroke victims ask but unfortunately there is no answer to the questions - only time will tell. Some people make a full recovery, some make a partial recovery and how much time that takes there is no answer. That is difficult to hear and pretty scary.

"You go from fear to anger asking, 'why did this happen to me?' The first thing doctors say is not to smoke, lose weight, work out and get fit - well that is what I was doing when this happened - and eat right. I was doing all the right things so I was pretty angry for half a day.

"Doctors said the best chance of recovery was to immediately get into physical therapy. I did that two days after the stroke and I got out of bed with assistance and got behind the walker around the hospital - and ironically it was around 200m. I timed it and it took me around 15 minutes to cover that distance.

"Ordinarily that would be very disconcerting and I would have no hope, - having been the fastest person in the world at that distance - but I was very encouraged. With every step I took, I could feel myself relearning.

"For the next few weeks I went back into an Olympic mindset and focusing on having the best training session I can today and using it to be better and get better.

"I could regain co-ordination and balance which I had lost. I did not lose any strength. Then I was getting back to walking properly, then more dynamic exercises and then into running."

Michael Johnson's gold running shoes
Johnson was famous for his gold running shoes

'California wildfires difficult situation'

Johnson lives in California in the United States and has been affected by the wildfires which have killed at least 76 people, left more than 1,200 people missing and destroyed nearly 12,000 buildings.

"I have been able to get home," added Johnson. "Out of one thing into another.

"Where my home is in Malibu, we have been evacuated but I am back in my home and fine for me, fortunately.

"A lot of people have lost their homes, we have fires all up and down California and may have lost their lives. It is a very difficult situation, my heart goes out to all of those who have lost their lives and property."

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