Game time was still 90 minutes off, plenty of time for the doctor to see a patient. "It's my knee," a radio reporter was telling Dot Richardson, M.D., an infielder on the silver-medal-winning North softball squad at last week's U.S. Olympic Festival in St. Louis.
"No problem. I'll just scope you," said Richardson, one of the best—and best-educated—female softball players in the country. Richardson, who is likely to lead off and play shortstop for the U.S. Olympic team during the 1996 Games, is also a second-year resident in orthopedic surgery at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California General Hospital. Her offer to perform arthroscopic surgery on the reporter was a joke, of course: Richardson is still several years from becoming a full-blown surgeon. She has, however, assisted in a potpourri of operating-room procedures this year. "You name it," she says, "organ transplants, colon resections, surgeries on gunshot wounds, hemorrhoidectomies." Clearly, softball isn't the only thing she knows inside out.
In order to juggle two careers, Richardson, 32, has learned that a sacrifice means more than advancing a runner. It means agreeing to work day and night to get two weeks off, as she had to do this spring to play in a tournament in Australia. It means returning to her apartment after a 36-hour hospital shift and deferring blessed sleep to run on her treadmill, a gift from her parents, who didn't want her running the streets of L.A. at night.
"She's always been active," says her father, Ken, a retired Air Force mechanic. He tells the story of a cross-country trip the family made to California from Orlando when Dot was nine months old. She drove her mother, Joyce, so crazy crawling all over the car that finally, says Ken, "we put her in a box in the backseat. That's how she got across the country—in a box."
When she was 10, Dot was such a good baseball player that the coach of an all-boys Little League team in Orlando said, "Honey, we'd love to have you on our team. If you don't mind, we'll just cut your hair and call you Bob."
She declined that generous offer. That summer, however, she joined the Union Park Jets, a team in a local women's softball league, and even made the league's all-star team. At 13 she became the youngest player ever in the national Women's Major Fast Pitch league. Nearly 20 years later she is still ripping the ball and still ranging deep in the hole, making tough, backhand stabs and nailing runners with, what else, surgically precise throws.
After transferring from Western Illinois, Richardson starred for three years at UCLA. She has played on three Pan Am Games teams and in three International Softball Federation world championships. Says Ralph Raymond, who will coach the '96 U.S. Olympic team, "This is one of the most phenomenal players to come down the pike."
And one of the most deeply in debt. To pay for medical school, Richardson has taken out $140,000 in loans. Yet she will put her residency on hold—for as much as a year, if necessary—to play in Atlanta, where softball will be an Olympic sport for the first time. "Those are my passions," says Richardson, "medicine and softball." And not necessarily in that order.