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Steve Nelson

New York, NY

Eighteen months ago my right hip rapidly went from dependable friend to cranky enemy. Bummer. I thought I was ageless with joints made of high-tensile steel. Wrong.

As I considered hip replacement surgery, I wondered if my days of athletic self-abuse were over. Conventional wisdom is that high-impact stuff should be avoided after hip replacement. Golf and doubles tennis are recommended on most medical websites. Better than shuffleboard, I suppose, but not quite my cup o’ tea.

I searched until I got the opinion I wanted. David Mayman, M.D. at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York offered a different point of view. Excerpts from our interview: Can I run after replacement? Sure. A marathon if I wanted to? Sure. Can I backpack and jump down small cliffs? Why? But sure. If I mountain bike and crash will I risk breaking my hip. Yes . . . but more likely the other one. He was my man.

I am 15 months post-op. I started indoor cycling on day four of recovery. I ran after 12 weeks. I’ve skied back bowls in Vail and fallen down, backcountry skied in Vermont and fallen down. (Do you sense a pattern? Read on.) I’ve cycled a lot. I’m 68, so I’m not going to set any personal records, but I used to be pretty competitive. As the saying goes, “the older I get, the faster I was.”

Throughout the year I have been less and less conscious of my “artificial” right hip and I’ve tested it thoroughly. Two weekends ago I had my final exam.

On Friday I did a trail run up and down Mt. Tom in Woodstock, VT. Uphill was uneventful other than realizing I’m not 35 anymore. Downhill, well, I’m not 35 anymore, but I loosened up and got into a faux-youthful rhythm. The bouncing from rock to rock, letting my momentum carry me down at a fast pace (sort of), felt glorious. My hip took all the impact I had to offer: full-weight landings from various heights as the trail descended. I got cocky. Because I’m not 35 anymore, every stride is slightly shorter than my intentions. Driving the baseline in basketball for a reverse layup, gently spinning the ball off the backboard now results in “banking” it off the bottom of the rim. Or, when intending to jump nimbly across a puddle, I’ll land about six inches short of the other side.

My shorter, lower stride resulted in catching my toe on a rock. I went bottom over elbow and crashed onto a dry streambed, all delusions of youth instantly vaporized. I picked myself up, looked around to make sure no humans or other mammals were laughing, and took stock of the damage. My toe and foot throbbed, my shoulder hurt, several fingers were bleeding, my shirt was slightly torn . . . but I got back into rhythm, ran back to the car and realized — the only thing that didn’t hurt was my right hip.

On Saturday, my foot was too sore for a run, so I mountain biked in Stowe, VT. Several loops of a moderately challenging section got my technical skills warmed up, so I decided to ride a notoriously fun descent — a trail named Florence. The hairpins were banked. I suppose it’s called Florence because it flows so beautifully. Near the bottom I made a sharp, “rooty” turn and encountered uphill riders. I tried to avoid them and ended up in the trees, bruising my arm and banging my shin with enough force that the ensuing swelling (honest to goodness, the size of a baseball) nauseated my wife. The only thing that didn’t ache was my right hip.

Undaunted, I returned to Stowe on Sunday. Florence beckoned. Despite various residual pains, I felt smooth and confident. I got into the flow on Flo, probably 25 percent faster through the hairpins, over the roots — blazing like a kid again. Then I hit the double bumps, which I had negotiated easily at 10-12 mph on Saturday. Traveling at 15-20 mph was just fast enough to get air over bump one and drive the front wheel directly into the nearly vertical face of bump two. It was my most spectacular crash ever, I think. My bike and I were temporarily in different zip codes. I actually recall the sound of helmet material crushing as my head struck first. I got up, looked around to make sure no humans or other mammals were laughing, and took stock of the damage. My neck hurt, my back hurt, and my wrist was slightly sprained, but I got back into rhythm (the 68-year-old rhythm), rode back to the car and realized — the only thing that didn’t hurt was my right hip.

My toe was a bit better, so I finished my day with a refreshing, slow, four-mile run along the beautiful, sedate recreational path in Stowe, where there was very little chance of falling down.

I may not be a good role model, but I am most decidedly Back in the Game!