Dr. Richard Steadman honored for a lifetime of healing
VAIL — The lovely and talented Gay Steadman will soon have another place to host deck parties.
Dr. Richard Steadman revolutionized orthopaedic medicine. He retired not so long ago after six decades of putting back together both world class athletes and weekend warriors.
During the recently concluded Alpine World Championships, it was the perfect time to honor him and dedicate a deck on Vail Mountain — Steady’s Place.
When he agreed to be there, he thought he’d be introduced, wave to the crowd that would about do it.
“It’s a lot more than I expected,” Steadman said.
Steadman is an innovator in orthopaedic sports medicine.
Born in 1937 in Sherman, Texas, Steadman graduated from Texas A&M, where he played football under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
He earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwest in Dallas in 1963.
In the mid-1970s he began to revolutionize the methods and very thinking around post-surgical physical therapy.
Steadman’s ability to return high-level athletes to medal-winning victories following surgery made him an iconic figure in sports medicine.
“I was injured very, very severely in 1979 leading up to the 1980 Olympics,” recalled Phil Mahre. “He put me back together. A lot of people said my career was over. He didn’t see it that way.”
He put American ski racing legend Cindy Nelson back together as well and set her back on the World Cup tour.
“Dr. Steadman is the single most important person in my ski racing career. He is the one that put me back together. He told me I was 100 percent and I went out there and I believed him,” Nelson said. “I owe to Dr. Steadman a part of every medal, every World Cup win, every victory big or small.”
The move to Vail
In 1988, the Steadman Philippon Research Institute was born, dedicated to researching the causes and aiding the prevention and treatment of orthopaedic disorders.
Two years later that research was put into practice when the Steadman Clinic open its doors in Vail.
Ask when they moved to Vail from Lake Tahoe and Gay pipes up.
“Aug. 1, 1990,” she said.
He did some work on former Vail ski company owner George Gillett, who traveled to Lake Tahoe for it.
Gillett decided the world would be much better if Steadman relocated his clinic to Vail. Steadman wasn’t sure he wanted to leave the Lake Tahoe area and it took some time, but Gillett is pretty much a force of nature.
“It was a good decision,” Steadman said. “Ski towns have an energy that you don’t find anywhere else.”
When Steadman moved himself and his business, some of his doctors and patients came with him, including Nelson.
The clinic walls are lined with photos of legendary athletes who Steadman and his crew put back together and put back on the field.
All that’s great, but Steadman says he is equally proud of how his work helps the rest of us weekend warriors.
“When I think of successful people, he’s my hero,” said Tamara McKinney, American Olympian and alpine racing star. “He’s a genuine person on top of being so great at what he does.”
His creation of a microfracture surgical procedure to treat defects in the knee is used to treat more than 500,000 patients worldwide each year. The technique has been adapted to treat other joints, such as the shoulder, hip and ankle.
“If I sit back and think what’s happened that’s been really good in my life … I’ve had a lot of success in surgery, a lot of success in patient care, but to have established a clinic that has helped everyone that way, that’s really good. … It’s a great profession. I like it a lot!” Steadman said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.