A Mysterious Affliction
In 1988, Devers was in top form. She set a national record of 12.61 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles and qualified for the American track-and-field team for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. While training for the Olympics, however, Devers began to experience a host of physical problems, including fatigue, muscle pulls, bouts of insomnia, fainting spells, migraine headaches, and various other ailments. Nevertheless, Devers pushed herself, and at the Olympics she had her worst competition performance since high school. She did not qualify for the finals, and many experts assumed that Devers had pushed herself too hard under Kersee.
Devers's symptoms worsened, and included memory and hair loss, skin discoloration, and near-constant menstruation. In 1990, after two years of suffering, doctors finally realized that Devers had Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder. Although she was miserable, Devers opted not to take the standard medication treatment for the disease, since this drug was on the list of mediations banned by the International Olympic Committee. Even as she was bed-ridden, Devers never gave up hope that she would someday return to the Olympics, and she did not want to take the chance of becoming ineligible for competition. Instead of medication, Devers opted for painful radiation therapy, which destroyed the cyst on her thyroid gland, but which also obliterated her thyroid gland itself in the process.
Her symptoms disappeared for a short while, and Devers thought she was cured. In 1991, however, Devers experienced new disturbing symptoms, including severe blood blisters on her feet, which doctors misdiagnosed as athlete's foot. Devers's feet swelled up to a dangerous size, and began oozing yellow fluid. Devers was in so much pain that she could not walk. At one point, the pain and swelling were so bad that doctors were ready to amputate both of her feet. Fortunately, Devers's doctors realized that the symptoms were the result of the athlete's radiation therapy. As soon as they stopped this treatment, her condition rapidly improved. As soon as she was able to walk, Devers began training again, starting with a single walk around the UCLA track—in socks, because her feet were still too tender to wear shoes. These were her first tentative steps in what is generally acknowledged as one of the most notable comebacks in sports history.