Felt Weak and Short of Breath: Jinson Johnson on COVID-19 Tryst
The 2018 Asian Games 1500m gold and 800m silver medalist tested positive for COVID-19 on April 12.
Having regained full fitness after a career-threatening injury in late 2019, India’s premier middle-distance runner Jinson Johnson was operating at the peak of his powers until the coronavirus proved a stumbling block. The 2018 Asian Games 1500m gold and 800m silver medallist tested positive for COVID-19, along with five other athletes, at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru on 12 April.
Bouts of breathlessness, fever, splitting head, body ache and extreme lethargy gave the 30-year-old athlete a torrid time, dispelling the general consensus that supremely fit individuals are immune to the health hazards of the virus.
“Unlike a few other athletes who had tested positive in the camp, I had all the symptoms. I felt extremely weak and I had breathing issues. I don’t even remember the last time I had a fever but this virus kept me down for the next two weeks,” Jinson reflected in an interview given to The Indian Express.
The national record holder in both the 800m and 1500m, Jinson is fit as a fiddle. He follows a gruelling training regimen and adheres to a strict diet plan. But the fact that COVID-19 left him feeling under the weather is a harsh reality check for those who believe it poses a risk only to the people leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Jinson, who has resumed training in the hills of Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, reckons he is still experiencing post-COVID syndrome. “When I hit the ground for the first time after my recovery, I felt a lot of weakness in my muscles. The breathing issue was still there. I still haven’t started full intensity training. I am covering a lot of distance but only walking and jogging. I also had to suffer post covid symptoms like headache but now I am better and have just resumed training,” explains Jinson.
He is gradually working his way back under the strict supervision of Dr Heath Matthews, Head (Sports Science and Medicine) and his team at the Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai.
Love and Care at Home Lifts Johnson’s Spirits
As soon as Jinson returned a negative test, he made a quick visit to his family in Chakkittapara, Kozhikode. That’s where the real recovery took place, feels Jinson.
“My mum prepared all my favourite dishes and took really good care of me. I had the best of Kerala food. I had a lot of kappa (tapioca), fish curry and a lot of dried fish. That one week at home was a much-needed break after two weeks of being locked up in a hostel room. The home trip rejuvenated my mind,” he said.
Jinson, now back at his base in Coonoor, is easing himself into the training phase. The junior commissioned officer knows qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics is a long shot but he is not going to lose sleep stressing over it.
“My preparations were going really good. I had fully recovered from the 2019 injury and was clocking really good times but unfortunately, this happened. I am a professional athlete and I see this as just another loss and I have to now focus on the next competition. This is a negative experience but I will come back stronger. There are a lot of big competitions in 2022 and I am pretty confident of doing well,” said Jinson with an air of optimism.
Dr Matthews, the go-to physiotherapist for elite Indian athletes across all sports, says Jinson’s health and recovery are of utmost priority and he wouldn’t want to fast-track the runner into intense training and competition straightaway.
“For us at the moment it is just about getting him to full fitness and doing it in a safe way. We are not going to take any risks or push his body in any way that might affect his heart or lungs. We are going about it in a very systematic manner,” observed Matthews, who monitored Jinson’s rehab after the Achilles tendon injury in November 2019.
Jinson suffered a major setback as he injured his Achilles heel during a preparatory stint at Colorado Springs, USA in November 2019 that kept him out of action for a long time. The breakdown was a culmination of several factors, including the spine-chilling weather of Colorado Springs where minus temperatures during the winters are a norm rather than the exception.
With local rehab efforts to no avail, he decided to seek help from the Sports Science & Medicine team at the Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital to get back to the grind.
“I had a little niggle in my tendons after a calf injury I got in Doha but that did not affect my running that much. But during my stint in the US, it got aggravated. I had difficulty in even walking or jogging, let alone running. I flew straight to Mumbai to get my rehab done,” told Jinson.
During his rehab, Dr Matthews’s team realised Jinson needed to strengthen his calf muscles to avoid injuries and decrease the ground contact time.
“You need strong calf muscles to generate a lot of force and accelerate forward. That means the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground is less and the force you generate is higher. In Jinson’s case, because of weak calf muscles, the moment the foot hits the ground the muscle does not generate a quick force. It doesn’t have the strength, so it’s lagging and that increased ground contact time puts a lot of pressure on the tendons,” Dr Matthews highlighted.
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