Editor’s note: I wrote a firsthand account on joint replacement in a three-part series that was published in July 2011. This is the second follow-up story to that series. I also wrote a one-year anniversary story in May.
Bicycling has replaced running in my life.
About five years ago, I learned that I would need hip replacement. While most people need joint replacement because of osteoarthritis, trauma or illness, I needed one because it was congenital. My hips didn’t form correctly, and this happens in about one of every 1,000 births.
Dr. Kelly Hendricks, a Kansas University orthopedic surgeon, estimated I would need surgery in one to five years on both my right and left hip. He said I could bicycle, swim or walk, but no more running because it would be hard on the joints and would accelerate the time I would need surgery.
No more running for a lifelong runner was difficult advice to digest. Yes, there were tears, and I thought, “Why me? Why not somebody who doesn’t like to run?” But, I followed his advice and went on walks instead of runs to stay in shape.
I also dusted off a mountain bicycle, bought a helmet and started venturing out. I had forgotten how much fun bicycling could be. As a kid, I used to pedal around our farm and up and down nearby dirt roads. In high school, my younger brother and I would go on long adventures, which we still talk about.
I mainly rode the mountain bicycle up and down the South Lawrence Trafficway bicycle path because it’s a safe and scenic 23-mile route from my house, and I found myself going on rides more often as the pain worsened. Bicycling actually helped my joint pain, so I rode up until a few days before my surgery both times.
At age 40, I had my right hip replacement on May 19, 2011, and my left hip replacement six months later on Nov. 15.
Thanks to an early spring, I was able to get back on the bike just a couple of months after surgery, and I decided it was time for a road bicycle because I wanted to go longer distances.
In late June, I purchased my first road bike at Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop in downtown Lawrence, and I quickly learned you need much more than a bicycle to go farther. Among the other items I have purchased: padded shorts (a must), insulated water bottles, sunglasses, gloves and a CamelBak, which is a bag that holds water and other items.
Fortunately for me, I can tolerate the heat so that didn’t stop me from riding this summer. I started by going across the Clinton Lake dam and riding on county roads close to the city limits. Then my friend Christine Metz Howard, a longtime bicyclist, showed me how to get to Lone Star Lake, and I was amazed by the beautiful scenery. A week or two later, she and her husband led me on a 50-mile ride with a stop at Lone Star Lake and Clinton Lake’s Bloomington Beach.
Since then, I have gone on at least one bicycle ride, ranging from 40 miles to 60 miles, every weekend. Part of my motivation was training for the Bike MS: Kansas City ride on Sept. 22-23. I had options of riding 38 miles, 71 miles or 101 miles on the first day and then 38 miles or 71 miles on the second day. I was determined to do 71 miles both days, and I did.
On the first day, I rode from Olathe to Lawrence, and there was a cold northerly wind and lots of hills that kind of took the fun out of the ride for the first 40 miles or so, but all of the other riders — at least 2,100 cyclists participated in the event — helped pull me through to De Soto. From there, the hills were minimal, the temperatures were warmer, and it was fun crossing the finish line and hanging out with my team members who opted for the 38-mile route. I was the first back from the longer routes.
On Day 2, temperatures quickly rose to about 70 degrees and there was a slight tailwind, so I enjoyed the return ride from Lawrence to Olathe, but I wished there were more cyclists who joined me. Many riders didn’t participate in Day 2 of the ride or opted for the shorter route.
Fortunately, I kind of coerced my colleague Katie Bean in joining me on the long ride. On Day 1, she opted for the shorter route, so at the decision point on Day 2 — mile 30 — I stopped and waited for her, hoping my mere presence would entice her to follow, and it worked. By the fourth Support and Gear station, commonly called a SAG stop, Katie seemed like she was spent. As she stretched, she gave me the OK to go on without her. I had told her the last 20 miles were pretty flat, so as I climbed the hills that I had so recently forgotten, I kept thinking, “Katie is going to kill me.” At mile 56, the pain in my behind became almost unbearable. I shifted back and forth on my seat until I could stand and rest at the last SAG stop. That brief stop made a huge difference, and then I headed to the finish line.
Though Katie finished the 71-mile route, she said she doesn’t plan to participate in such a long ride again. I, however, am hooked and plan to participate in Octoginta — an 80-mile ride that goes through northeast Kansas — on Oct. 14. The ride is organized by the Lawrence Bicycle Club and draws hundreds of bicyclists each year.
I’m still learning the ropes of cycling, but it has provided a new lease on life along with my hip replacements. Every ride brings a new adventure.