It won't surprise anyone if orthopaedic resident Dorothy Richardson, MD, decides to specialize in sports medicine.
She's spent a lifetime playing softball, won a jillion awards, been on world championship teams and helped the USA women's softball team win a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in July.
"I am interested in sports medicine, but I haven't made a decision yet," Dr. Richardson said. "There are still a few more years to go."
You must know the story by now. Dr. Richardson took a one-year leave of absence after her third year of orthopaedic residency so she could play shortstop for the USA team at the summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Twenty-four years earlier, 10-year-old Dot Richardson was told by a Little League coach that if she cut her hair and agreed to be called "Bob" she could play on the team. Dot didn't. She went on to play softball on women's teams and wound up, at 17-years-old, as a member of the USA team at the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico. She won a gold medal that year and at the Pan American games in 1987, 1991 and 1995.
Named NCAA Player of the '80s, Dr. Richardson was four-time collegiate All-American, leading UCLA in hitting in her sophomore, junior and senior years (she was a freshman at Western Illinois University). Dr. Richardson played softball while at the University of Louisville Medical School and as an orthopaedic resident at the University of Southern California County General Hospital.
If there was an award to win, Dr. Richardson won it. The Olympic gold was beyond her reach because the sport didn't have medal status at the Olympics. That was true until this year, and Dr. Richardson was determined to be on the first softball team to play in the Olympics.
At age 34, she was the oldest player on the USA team and its most vocal cheerleader. She capped the honor of playing in the first Olympic women's softball game with a home run during a 10-0 rout of the team from Puerto Rico. It was the first of three homers during the Olympics; the last one came in the finals against China.
Far from shy in showing her enthusiasm for the sport, Dr. Richardson quickly became the focus of media attention. You saw her with arms stretched above her head hailing the first victory and you saw her weeping while singing the national anthem when she received the gold medal.
So after all the tumult on the playing field, what was it like to return to USC? "It's good to be home," she said, the first day back at the hospital. "The first thing I noticed were all the changes in the building and the parking lot as I drove up, then the greetings from the staff and the patients who smiled and applauded."
Dr. Richardson was on hand rotation and made rounds the first morning, but was pulled away to more tumult at a press conference held in front of the hospital.
What drew her to an interest in orthopaedics? "When I was in medical school, I loved everything about orthopaedics. I was looking at it for the long-term, something I would do for the rest of my life. I felt I would love to help people improve their lives. If it involved a sports injury, I would be able to get them back to a point where they could achieve their goals."
She also admitted, "I love surgery," emphasizing the word love. "It's like playing (sports). You're into a competition, there is no room for mistakes. You're at a higher level of concentration and you're working with a team."
Dr. Richardson will continue to compete on the baseball diamond, but she is making medicine her priority. For the near-term, she knew there would be no vacation time and a rotation in trauma probably precluded week-end softball games.
Underlying her enthusiasm for softball is the desire to raise the public's awareness of the sport; maintain its Olympic status for the games in 2000 and to serve as a role model for young boys and girls, showing that anything they desire is possible.
Dorothy Richardson, MD displays her Olympic Games medal.
Dorothy Richardson, MD has her fans in the hospital, too.