Up In Your Head: Can Having Tourette Syndrome Make You a Superior Athlete?

“The studies that have been done of people where actually measuring their movements, measuring how fast their movements are and the reaction times show that on average, people with Tourette Syndrome are about the same as people without,” Mink said.

In fact, Mink said there aren’t really any advantages to having Tourette's, which carries heavy social stigma and physical exhaustion.

But it’s not just world-class athletes who see a positive side to their condition. TV and movie actor Dash Mihok, another Tourette’s sufferer, said he had every tic from involuntarily jumping up and down to vocal tics to touching his mouth to his knee.

PHOTO: Actor Dash Mihok sat down with ABCs Elizabeth Vargas for 20/20.
ABC News
PHOTO: Actor Dash Mihok sat down with ABC's Elizabeth Vargas for "20/20."

“I think that the reason I became an actor, probably, underneath it, was that I spent my life acting normal,” the 40-year-old said. “I spent my life figuring out ways to make the room OK with me.”

But, remarkably, once he is on set and hears the director call “action,” his tics stop.

“Because it's life or death, you know? It's make it or break it,” Mihok said. “I don't know if I ever realized, initially, that I didn't tic when I was so focused on my acting. I think it was after I had already done it a few years, when I went, ‘Hey, interesting that this happens.’

Likewise, Tim Howard said he never has tics when a ball is coming his way. But once Howard leaves the field, or once a director on a movie set yells “cut” for Mihok, the tics reemerge.

“When we're at rest, that's when they come,” Mihok said. “But when you're focused and your body, and your mind and your heart are set on what you are doing in that moment, you don't tick. But then the minute it's over, you get back to your twitching.”

Dr. Jonathan Mink believes the reason for this may have to do with how these professionals are focusing their brains on the task at hand.

“I think it has to do with the mechanisms in the brain that are producing the tics, that they compete with the mechanisms of the brain that are producing the other activities: the playing, the sport, acting,” he said.

Having learned to deal with his condition over the years, Mihok said he now believes his Tourette's is a gift.

“We are practicing, at all times, our reactions and how to hide, how to cover,” he said. “And with all these crazy contortions that we have to do ... we’re quicker, dexterous. ... I believe we have a tremendous amount of heart and work ethic.”

“There were many, many times where I looked up to whoever and shook my fist and balled my eyes out and just asked my mom, ‘Why? Why do I have this? Why? Why me? It's not fair,’” Mihok continued. “And I got through it. You become resilient and you get through it. ... It's completely a part of who I am, what my character is, and how I interact with the world, and people and relationships. And I don't know what it would be like without it.”

For more information regarding Tourette syndrome, visit the National Tourette Syndrome Association website.

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