When people ask how I injured my hip, I proudly say, “I wore it out.” After 40 years of competing in the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run that make up the event, my hip had had enough.
By 2017, I had weakness in my left adductor muscles that reduced my range of motion. Nerve pain traveled all the way down my leg and, worst of all, I couldn’t sleep.
Like many stubborn runners, I tried to keep going. I didn’t want to make an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to find out how bad it truly was because I was still able to train and race. Eventually it was the sleeplessness that became too much to bear.
Approaching hip surgery with mixed feelings
The good news: I was an excellent candidate for a total replacement of my left hip.
The bad news: My new hip was not designed to handle the extreme stress of training or racing an IRONMAN.
As a former pro athlete, this was life-changing news. The IRONMAN race event shaped who I am as a person, beginning with my debut race in 1982.
As I explored the option of hip replacement surgery, my doctor, Dr. Kase Ezzet, assured me that I could be quite active with an artificial hip, but the pounding action of running could wear it out and require more surgery to replace it.
I wondered whether I was willing to risk more surgery to keep racing triathlons.
As a triathlete, running is my favorite of the three sports. It provides the biggest bang for your buck, the best sweat return, the cheapest therapy session. Would I ever be able to run again?
What was life going to look like, feel like and be like with a new hip and without IRONMAN?
These questions brought about feelings of sadness, resentment, loss and doubt. Yet I held fast to an innate feeling that I’d run again. As a 23-year-old I ran my breakout IRONMAN race with zero experience, and I knew I’d figure this out, too. So I decided to go ahead with the surgery.
The timing had its challenges. Surgery was scheduled for June 4, 2020, one of the first elective surgeries performed at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, CA, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was told I’d be up and moving hours after surgery, but wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital until I could use the walker to move down the corridor and climb a set of steps to demonstrate I could function at home. A full recovery could take as long as a year or two.