Michael Johnson: 'Olympic mindset' helped me recover from stroke

Former sprinter Michael Johnson has described the 'Olympic mindset' he used to recover from a stroke, Nov. 19, 2018. Karwai Tang/WireImage

Legendary US sprinter Michael Johnson says getting into the mindset of his inner Olympic athlete helped him recover after suffering a stroke.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist suffered a transient ischemic attack -- or mini-stroke -- after a training session in September, but has made a near-full recovery three months on.

Speaking to the BBC, Johnson described how it took 15 minutes to walk 200m, the same distance across which he sprinted to gold in a world record 19.32 seconds at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, during the early stages of his recuperation.

"Doctors said the best chance of recovery was to immediately get into physical therapy," said Johnson, 51.

"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, focusing on having the best training session I can today and using it to be better and get better."

Johnson began a love affair with the Olympics in 1992 at the Barcelona Games, where he won his first gold medal in the 4x400m final.

He was the figurehead in Atlanta four years later, winning gold and breaking the world record in the 200m before adding another gold in the 400m, a title he retained at the Sydney Games in 2000.

He won eight world titles between 1991 and 1999 and set world records in the 200m and 400m that stood for twelve and seventeen years respectively.

But after a routine training session at home Johnson felt a tingling down his left side and took no chances, heading straight to hospital where he was quickly diagnosed.

"After the MRI scan, I almost fell off the table. I could not walk or move my left leg," he said. "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 got 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 was achieving tiny incremental improvements and it gave me hope. 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."

Johnson described himself as "lucky", saying he has returned to work and is feeling good after what had been "quite an experience".