By Ryan Fennell
Rumson – Olympic gold is a long road paved with hard work, determination, focus, and a unique ability to fight through pain.
On occasion, though, enough pain or a significant injury can sideline the best athletes in the world.
When such occasions arise for some of the world’s best runners, Rumson resident Dr. John Connors, a board certified sports podiatrist with offices in Little Silver and New York City, is there to get them back on their feet.
With 19 current Olympic track and field athletes as patients, Connors leaves for London this Saturday to serve as one of the doctors in the Nike Hospitality tent treating the Olympic runners before and after the track and field events next week.
“It’s a thrill of a lifetime to be involved with the Olympics,” Connors said. “It’s unbelievable to be at the Olympics in the capacity that I go as, being a doctor for the track and field athletes.”
The London Olympics will be the second time Connors has been invited to volunteer his time and talent as a doctor for Olympic runners during the games, having traveled to Sydney, Australia for the Olympics in 2000.
“(Sydney) was an unbelievable experience just to go in and out of the Olympic stadium with the athletes,” Connors said.
Connors will be on hand to treat runners before, during, and after the track and field events in London.
“I’ll be working with the athletes in between the sessions, those that have just competed or are going to compete later on or the next day,” Connors said.
In his practice, Connors currently treats 19 Olympic athletes and others from all over the world including athletes from the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
“I’m responsible for a lot of these Olympic runners from all over the world that are participating in the Olympics this year that I’ve done surgery on or treated in some capacity,” Connors said. “So, it’s very emotional for me to sit there during the events and see these athletes that couldn’t run because of an issue in their foot, ankle, or leg and they’re back contending for a gold medal.”
Connors pointed out that Olympic-level runners suffer the same issues and injuries as everyone else.
“These elite athletes get the same injuries as the common, everyday runner or the weekend warrior gets,” Connors said. “They’re unique individuals, but they get the same injuries that I see in my office all day long.
“But,” Connors added, “These elite runners have the ability to run and train through pain and continue to push that pain threshold back. That’s one of the things that sets them apart.”
Connors also prefers to perform his surgeries on his national and international athletes at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank.
According to Connors, Riverview has an excellent orthopedic and sports medicine department.
A marathon runner himself, having participated in 17 marathons over 15-plus years, Connors knew when he was studying to become a doctor that he wanted to one day treat the best runners in the world.
“I knew when I was going through college and medical school that I wanted to specialize in sports medicine,” Connors said. “I knew that I wanted to specialize in treating runners because I’m a competitive runner myself. I had a vision of treating the best runners in the world and I made it happen. It took a long time, but I started at the local level, went to the collegiate level, then the national level.
“One day, from a referral, I treated the world record holder in the women’s marathon,” continued Connors, “and I helped her and then she went and told her agent. That agent told another agent and the next thing you know I’m branching out from the United States into Brazil, Mexico, Ethiopia, Russia, Romania – all over the world. I’ve developed that reputation in my 21 years of practice as being the ‘guru’ when it comes to running or running-related issues.”
Among Connors current Olympic patients is Shannon Rowbury, the American record-holder in the 1500 meter, and Molly Huddle, the American record-holder in the 5000-meter.
Both Rowbury and Huddle had issues early on that would have prevented them from participating in this year’s Olympics.
After seeing Connors both went from not being able to run to representing the U.S. in the Olympics and both are predicted to medal in this year’s games.
Another of Connors’ patients is Patrick Makau of Kenya, the world record-holder in the marathon.
The Kenyan Federation sent Makau to see Connors because they saw that he had tremendous potential with one problem, he couldn’t run.
“They sent him over because they said this kid’s got huge potential but only has one problem,” Connors said, “He can’t run across the street.”
Makau had never run in a marathon before because of an issue with his knee.
“He had Patella Tendonitis,” Connors said. “I fixed his knee and he went from not being able to run across the street to now being the world record holder in the marathon.
“Something like that is very rewarding to me,” Connors added.
Connors will have his own treatment table in the Nike hospitality tent during the track and field events and will be tweeting live on Twitter during the Olympics @drjohnconnors.