Athletes set to honor Steadman on Saturday
VAIL — The annual Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek may have been canceled, but a roster of America’s finest World Cup skiers will be on hand on Saturday to honor one of the most talented surgeons in sports medicine history.
The Grateful Steadys is the name of a loose confederation of grateful patients, athletes, doctors, friends, and fans brought together by a quartet of Olympic skiers to honor retired local orthopaedic pioneer, Dr. Richard Steadman. Like many of their peers, the Core Four— Andy Mill, Cindy Nelson, Edie Thys Morgan and Christin Cooper-Tache — owe their careers and post-career active lives to Steadman’s interventions. That quartet felt it was time for the skiing world to acknowledge the impact Steadman has had on the sport.
The campaign launched a year ago with the commissioning of a life-size bronze bust by sculptor Bruce Wolfe, and was followed by a grassroots fundraising campaign to the Steady faithful around the world. The response was immediate. With fundraising now complete, the campaign culminates with the unveiling of the original bronze during a U.S. Ski Team Alumni event, hosted at SaddleRidge in Beaver Creek.
The statue will be displayed in the Steadman Philippon Research Institute wing of the new Vail Valley Medical Center. Two identical replicas were cast — one for the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence, in Park City, Utah, and the other in the Steadman residence.
The Grateful Steady party also includes a tribute video (created by Vail’s Hayden Scott of Ee4KProductions) documenting Steadman’s career, with testimonials by champion skiers and patients. Many of those patients will be in attendance, with some on hand to talk about Steadman’s impact on their lives and careers.
An early innovator
An award-winning innovator in the field of orthopedic sports medicine, Steadman’s pioneering approach got world class ski racers back on skis in record time, helped weekend warriors return to active recreation, and enabled professional athletes from nearly every sport to return to the playing field stronger than before.
In 1963, after earning his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Steadman went to work in South Lake Tahoe, California, as an orthopaedic surgeon at Barton Memorial Hospital. When he volunteered his services at a World Cup ski race in Heavenly Valley in 1973, a long relationship with the U.S. Ski Team began.
He was soon pioneering improvements in post-surgical rehabilitation, developing novel exercise protocols.
In 1974, U.S. Ski Team star Cindy Nelson became the first elite skier to be treated by Steadman. Nelson would undergo 11 surgeries in her 14-year career, without ever missing a full season. Nelson won Olympic Downhill bronze in 1976, as well as a trio of World Championships medals and six World Cup races. Athletes of all kinds coursed through Tahoe over the next decades, often taking up residence in the Steadman home, as new protocols were tested, and proven sound, first on his living room floor, then out on the race courses.
Nelson, then working as Vail’s Director of Skiing, and former Vail Associates owner George Gillett were instrumental in persuading Steadman to leave Lake Tahoe in 1990, with the promise of expanded research, treatment and training facilities in Vail.
A parade of patients
Steadman has treated more than 22,000 patients during his 40-year career in Tahoe and Vail. The list of patients includes tennis greats Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Billie Jean King, NFL Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Bruce Smith, musicians Judy Collins and Rod Stewart, and global soccer sensations Ronaldo and Lothar Matthaeus. Steadman became a consultant to the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies while serving as U.S. Alpine Chief Physician at nine consecutive Olympic Winter Games from 1976 through 2006.
Steadman’s advanced surgical protocols and innovations include: Microfracture, a procedure that repairs the damaged joint and encourages the regrowth of articular cartilage; Healing Response, an arthroscopic alternative to full knee reconstruction; and The Package, a collection of arthroscopic procedures performed in a single operation, for which Steadman received a research award in 2012.
Today, the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, in collaboration with the doctors of the Steadman Clinic, is known worldwide for its clinical database and research into orthopedic injuries of the knee, hip, shoulder, ankle and spine.
As part of Steadman’s early vision, The Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute will be housed in the new 59,000 square foot Vail Valley Medical Center, providing state-of-the art medical facilities and patient care as part of the hospital’s multi-year renovation and expansion.
The first phase, the west wing, will open in 2017.
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While Kaemmer loved skiing, he also loved to work, and in Vail he found what he believed would be an idyllic setting to be both an entrepreneur and a skier.