She's pulling double duty Rower: Ruth Davidon has worked hard to be an Olympian in the single sculls. But the third-year Hopkins medical student sees healing Third World children as her ultimate gold medal.

July 17, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Her preparation has been twofold: The time she has spent on the water helped Ruth Davidon get ready to compete as a gold-medal contender in the 1996 Olympics, and the time she has spent in the clinic helped her get ready for the rest of her life as a doctor hoping to save lives of sick children in Third World countries.

For the next two weeks, Davidon's concentration will be focused on the rowing competition at Lake Lanier, 40 miles outside Atlanta, where the third-year medical student at Johns Hopkins will be trying to win a gold medal in the single sculls.

But the most important chapter of her life is still to unfold. It will come when the Olympics are over and Davidon, 32, returns to Baltimore to finish her degree and continue her research in vaccine development.

"This seems like a good way to harness my abilities in science," she said earlier this year. "It seems like a good way to impact on the lives of the less fortunate."

Davidon's pursuits began when she was growing up in Haverford, Pa. Her father, William, was a physicist, and she became interested in science. But by the time she was in the ninth grade, Davidon had grown to her full height of 5 feet 11.

"The coach came up to me in the hallway and recruited me," Davidon recalled.

It wasn't the basketball coach at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, but the rowing coach. An area known for producing some of the best rowers in the country had yielded a natural. "I loved being on the water," she said. "I loved being outside. I quickly got good at it. And I loved winning."

But that other interest -- her studies -- always seemed to take precedence. She went on to Amherst College, where she graduated with honors in 1987. She spent a year at Harvard working on her doctorate in immunology. While taking four years off from school to do biomedical research in immunology, Davidon got more seriously into rowing. She was accepted into Johns Hopkins in 1993 and spent two years there as a full-time medical student and a full-time Olympic hopeful.

"I would get out at 5 a.m. to beat the motorboats," Davidon said.

Though what Davidon is doing isn't unique -- Olympic marathoner Bob Kempainen recently finished his medical studies the University of Minnesota -- those around her have been impressed. "At the level Ruth competes, it's remarkable she's been able to do both," said Dr. H. Frank Hurlong, dean of student affairs at Hopkins medical school. "It requires a tremendous amount of discipline."

And, in Davidon's case, it also has meant putting up with a lot of pain. In this case, it's her own. Not only has she combined her two passions by working in clinics while training in different parts of the country, but she also has found herself a patient as a result of the rowing. She has suffered stress fractures in her rib cage 11 times, and was out of the water part of the spring because of the most recent one.

Kiddingly, she said that her doctor, Johns Hopkins professor of orthopedic surgery Ed McFarland, "has turned into one of the world's experts on rib fractures and rowers." What her husband, Eric Beinhocher, calls "an uncommon injury" for rowers has become all too common for Davidon. She narrowly missed making the 1992 team while competing with three broken ribs.

She also had three broken ribs when she won a bronze medal in the 1993 world championships, but, when healthy, Davidon won a gold medal in the 500 meters and a silver in the 1,000 meters at the 1995 Goodwill Games and a silver in the single sculls at the 1995 Pan Am Games. She was hurt again at last year's world championships and finished sixth.

"I'm looking to medal when I've been as healthy as the competition," said Davidon, a four-time single sculls national champion and two-time national champion in double sculls competition.

Asked how she was injured so many times, Davidon said, "By pulling too hard."

How can she prevent further injury? "Not pulling too hard."

After her most recent injuries healed, Davidon spent the early part of the spring training at altitude on Cochiti Lake in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. She spent a month in Europe in pre-Olympic competition, and saw the kind of results and times that gave her confidence going into Atlanta.

"It's been a pretty positive indication," said Beinhocher, a former rower at Dartmouth who coaches his wife. "When she's been injured before, she tends to return to the water too quickly. This time, she lets things heal."

Despite taking a leave of absence from school for the year, Davidon has found time to stay involved in her medical studies. She did a clinic clerkship in San Diego while training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. When home, Davidon has managed to spend some time at the Habitat for Humanity in East Baltimore. And she has been involved in Olympic Aid, a program directed at helping children in underdeveloped countries.

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