Bob's Olympic Story

Three months before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Bob Berland was finished. A staph infection had centered in his knee after routine knee surgery had gone bad. The infection was ravaging his body; he could have died. The doctors saved his life, but not his Olympic dream. He was informed that he would not be able to compete; his Olympic dream was seemingly shattered.

Bob Berland

Bob Berland’s Olympic dream began at 10 years of age when his Judo coach made the 1972 Olympic Team. During the ‘72 Games," Bob eagerly watched in the hopes of catching, just a glimpse, of his coach on television. After being glued to the set for 16 days… Bob never did see his coach, but he had just watched his first Olympics and knew right then and there, one day he too would earn the title OLYMPIAN. And so… another Olympic dream was born.

That dream became a reality exactly 12 years later in February of 1984 when Bob qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

But the jubilation wouldn’t last long. While training in Europe for the Olympics, Bob injured his knee and was flown back to San Jose State where he was training at the time. His team's orthopedic surgeon evaluated his injury and determined that he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament [ACL]. The doctor scheduled Bob for outpatient arthroscopic surgery. The plan was not to repair the tear, but rather remove the debris from the tear, which would help reduce the pain and enable Bob to resume his training for the Los Angeles Olympics. The reconstruction would take place after the Olympics were over.

Bob Berland

The outpatient surgery went fast. After it was over, unbeknownst to the doctors, Bob had developed a staph infection. The next day Bob called his doctor to complain about the pain in his knee, which had grown progressively worse; his doctor dismissed it as post-operative pain. After three days of suffering alone in his apartment, Bob’s Judo coach, Yosh Uchida, checked on him. He found Bob in bed, lapsing in and out of consciousness. He threw Bob into his car and rushed him to the surgeon’s office. When Bob entered his surgeon’s office, the doctor took one look at his knee, which was five times its normal size, and quickly grabbed a syringe and plunged it into his grossly swollen knee. A dark, coffee like substance spewed out. The surgeon urgently said to his nurse, "Clear my schedule we have to perform emergency surgery…RIGHT NOW."

When Bob heard that he said "Are you crazy, I don’t have time for another surgery, I am competing in the Olympics in three months." The doctor said, "This is not a debate, you are having surgery right now or you will die, and you should know…we may have to resort to amputation in an effort to save your life."

Bob could not believe what he was being told.

When he entered his doctor’s office he was a member of the United States Olympic team, in the midst of preparing for the single most important day of his life, a day he had been dreaming about since he was 10 years old. And in a matter of moments, Bob had just been reduced to a patient, in a hospital, about to undergo emergency surgery with the possibility of amputation.

With that harsh reality, Bob was rushed into surgery.

After surgery, Bob remembers, "When I opened my eyes, the first thing I did was reach down and feel for my leg…it was there, I exhaled and closed my eyes, thankful."

Bob Berland

The damage to his knee joint was massive and he was looking at months of recovery before he could begin the physical rehab process. And then the fatal blow was delivered when the doctor finally said what everyone had feared, "You will not be able to compete in the 1984 Olympic Games."

Bob still can recall this like it was yesterday, "I remember looking at that doctor, with fire in my eyes and I said, "YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STEAL MY DREAM. You’re wrong. I will be competing in these Olympic Games… of that you can be sure and my training for these games has just resumed!"

He then reached up and grabbed the steel triangle, which hangs over the center of a hospital bed, and with both hands started doing pull ups. The doctor and nurse both looked at him with pity in their eyes as they walked out of the room…

Despite medically being given no chance to compete, in Bob’s mind, he would not give up; his Olympic dream was still very much alive!

He started doing sit-ups and pull-ups in his hospital bed multiple times a day. He began to read positive articles and publications about past competitions. He was working on his psyche-getting mentally stronger. Next he studied video tape of his competitors, learning all that he could. Bob said, "I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be able to resume my physical training, so I needed to maximize my time off the mats. I focused my attention on the cognitive and the emotional; two areas that I had not typically focused on to this degree in the past, and surprisingly I was realizing great results."

What Bob was doing, was converting his staph infection into an opportunity. He faced adversity, but that adversity is what fueled his inner drive. He used the infection as a source of strength and never looked back. He was now more committed than ever, prepared to work harder, work longer and willing to do whatever it took.

After two weeks Bob was finally released from the hospital; he had dropped 20 lbs. He resumed his physical training, which was long, hard, tedious, and filled with challenges and obstacles. But Bob was mentally prepared to meet them all. Eventually he had to work out 12 hours a-day to regain the weight he lost and get himself back into competitive condition.

Bob Berland

Looking back at that time he said, "My goal was to be able to look myself in the mirror on August 8th [the day of the competition] and be able to say that nobody on the planet worked harder or was more prepared than I. And therefore I had EARNED the right to WIN. And when that day finally arrived that is exactly what I BELIEVED!"

When Bob entered the Olympic arena on August 8th 1984 he was ready to compete. In spite of his many critics who thought a recovery impossible. Bob never gave up on his dream and never stopped believing. His goal never changed, the only thing that changed was the path to get there.

When the Olympics started, Bob was 70-80 percent physically, but 150 percent mentally.

It was enough.

Bob Berland

During the Olympic Games, Bob defeated each opponent with skill and determination. In the end, he lost in his quest for Gold in the Olympic final. However, he returned with the Silver, the highest medal ever won by an American in the sport of Judo, which is still the highest medal earned by a U.S. Judoka today. Olympic coach, Paul Maruyama, said after Bob’s match, "He is a superb judo man … I’m proud of what Bobby did, especially because of that injury. To do what he did was absolutely amazing..."

» Berland 1984 Olympic Games "JUDO" An Inspiring World-Class Story!

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