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Steady, as he goes

Don Rogers
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

We certified ourselves local early in our residency here. Feet, an ankle, a knee, a wrist. The whole family has spent quality time under the healing touch of Steadman Clinic surgeons.

It was nice to know that such athletes as John Elway, Yao Ming, Martina Navaratilova, Renaldo and just about every great skier trusted the clinic to put them back together well enough to compete at the highest levels.

But Mary, Rachel and Ben were a lot more important, at least to me. Oh yeah, and my own weird compulsion despite a crappy knee (or two) to keep trying to play basketball long, long past my prime, as well as run high on trails instead of retreating to a bike.

I had a great retort, too, when my surgeon (Bill Sterret, long before he left the clinic) told me in fall 2003 I should have come to see him sooner. “Well, if we weren’t so busy with one of your patients who seems to have misbehaved, I would have,” I joked.

I still take absurd pride in beating our reporter’s coverage of Kobe Bryant’s preliminary court hearing with my column after having ACL reconstruction surgery in the early morning and my leg locked in a contraption that kept it moving.

Here’s the difference for me: I went first to another clinic, where the doc who looked at my knee told me he’d clean up the torn meniscus but forget about the ACL and get used to swimming and bike riding for exercise because basketball and running were over for me. I used slightly different words, but they amounted to “forget that.”

At Steadman, I at least got a promise to evaluate the ACL during surgery and fix that if it wouldn’t lead to further complications.

I’m still playing basketball and running trails today, over a decade later. Snowboarding where I want to go is just the icing.

I go long with my own story in this appreciation of Dr. Richard Steadman, who announced his retirement last week, because what he does is so personal to each of us who suffers the type of injury he has devoted his life to healing.

Ask Cindy Nelson and Phil Mahre, two of his earliest star patients. They both tell of living at the Steadmans’ home in South Lake Tahoe in the mid-’70s while undergoing then-radical treatment and recuperation techniques to continue their skiing careers. Wife Gay gets as much credit as Richard in the devotion department, by the way.

I understand that Nelson, who had moved to Vail, helped George Gillett attract Steadman here in 1990. It was a brilliant move for Vail that yes, added a bit to the town’s star luster but really solidified the hospital generally, along with providing an economic booster that we still don’t appreciate nearly enough.

Steadman did a lot more for us than fixing our joints while establishing one of the very top orthopedic clinics and research facilities in the world.

The devotion that brought patients home in the early days obviously continued burning brightly in a career that has taken him to just now deciding to stop his normal workday at the brink of 77. I didn’t believe he’d ever stop, and still don’t, not really.

He lives the model of finding your passion and doing what you really love and then it’s not work. He collected top surgeons and pioneered surgical procedures and recuperation techniques that saved and extended a lot of athletic careers, none more important to you or me than being able to continue the lifestyles that brought us here in the first place.

I’m never more thankful for his clinic and legacy than while finishing a two-hour run into the Holy Cross Wilderness in late summer, generally around sunset, on a knee that was supposed to only be fit for a bike ride or a swim.

Of course, I do have to think about it to feel that appreciation. The greater testimonial is that I rarely do. I’m too caught up with the run itself, able to take the knee’s part for granted.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.


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