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D.C. doctor goes from Olympian to orthopedics

Friday - 8/3/2012, 6:02am  ET

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Dr. David Johnson was on the U.S. swim team at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He then went into sports medicine. (Photo Courtesy of Medstar Washington Hospital Center)

Paula Wolfson

WASHINGTON - When Dr. David Johnson sees the Olympics, he sees a "magical place" in his life.

Johnson was on the U.S. swim team at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. When he watches the current team on TV, "it is like no time has passed," he says.

"When the swimmers come out of their ready room, and they are ready to compete, and they put their stuff on the chair behind the starting blocks, and they start swinging their arms, I am there," he says.

Johnson's Olympic moment was bittersweet. He became sick after his arrival in Mexico City and dropped 14 pounds in seven hours. He jokes that he set a record for rapid weight loss among athletes.

"Instead of having an IV started to replenish quick loss of weight, I was told to drink tea and that would be it," he says. "Athletes deserve better than that."

His experience in Mexico City prompted Johnson to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor. He decided to specialize in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine.

Johnson returned to the Olympics at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., serving as team doctor for athletes participating in skating events, including the U.S. hockey team responsible for the "Miracle on Ice."

These days, he is on the staff of Medstar Washington Hospital Center, where he works mostly with amateur athletes.

"When an athlete comes to me at whatever level, I know what that sport and that involvement means to them," Johnson says.

As a swimmer at the highest competitive level, Johnson says he learned all about teamwork, dedication and focus.

"I also learned that you have to dream and dream big, because nothing of any value comes without first being a dream," he says.

Johnson indicates he is not surprised to see how much faster swimmers are today.

"The training is different. The training is better," he says. "The strokes are a little different now. The suits are different, they have less drag."

But much remains the same: the friendships, the hard work and the intensity. When the London games are over, Johnson has some advice for this new generation of swimming Olympians.

"The best thing to do is go on vacation, relax, kick back, enjoy," he says.

Despite his many years outside of the Olympic circuit, Johnson still swims for relaxation and he still loves the sport.

And yes, he still competes. But now he opts for open water, and his favorite pool is the Chesapeake Bay.

"There is nothing like the feel of slipping through the water," he says.

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