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By the time most men and women reach their early 40s, they’ve long since hung up their running shoes. Not John Strickler.

The Haslett resident was averaging between 25 and 35 miles a week, taking advantage of any opportunity to lace up and run. But that was before a childhood injury returned to haunt him.

The usual suspect: Football injury

“I’m 99.99 percent sure it was an injury I had back in seventh grade,” says John. “I’d been sick, but because we had a game the next day I decided to go to practice. We were trying out to see who was going to kick for the team. I didn’t even warm up. I just kicked the ball.”

He describes the ensuing pain as one of the worst he’s ever experienced.

“I just limped away,” he chuckles now. “I did play again. As a matter of fact, I played in the game the following day. But I couldn’t pull my leg back under me once I’d push off, so Coach took me out of the game.”

That long-forgotten injury returned as a sharp pain in his right hip. “I was about 29 or 30,” John recalls. The sharp pain gradually became a dull ache. “It was constant,” he says. “As I’d stand there, it would become more intense, so I’d shift all my weight to my left leg to relieve the pain.”

He wasn’t about to let the pain keep him down. “At first, I’d just change my running shoes. As I ran throughout the years, it slowly got worse and worse. I just kept trying to run. Eventually, after running for a mile and a half or so, I just couldn’t run anymore. And afterwards, I couldn’t walk very well. I had very little mobility.”

His wife, Chris, suspected arthritis.

One final run

“I’m a physical therapist, and I see this kind of thing all the time,” she admits. “I’d push him to see a doctor. I really felt bad for him. But finally I just got frustrated and said, ‘Either you’re going to call or I’m going to call.’ ”

John remembers his first appointment with Dr. Steven Drayer, a Lansing orthopedic surgeon. “That morning was my last run,” he says with a bit of melancholy.

During the appointment, Dr. Drayer confirmed what the Stricklers already knew. “I was bone on bone,” says John. Dr. Drayer explains. “There are pads, or cartilage, between the two ends of each bone — in John’s case, the ball joint and the pelvic socket. The two ends of the bones and the cartilage between them wear out simultaneously and eventually disappear. Avascular necrosis — a bone disease that’s caused by the loss of blood to the bone — isn’t uncommon in patients who have experienced an injury. The patient develops arthritis, and as the disease progresses, you get increasing stiffness and weakness.”

High pain tolerance

But John managed to tolerate the pain. When he was offered cortisone injections to temporarily relieve the pain, he’d decline.

“People always told me I have a high tolerance for pain,” he says. “I guess it’s true.”

Despite his discomfort, John remained active. As a programmer/analyst for the state of Michigan, his attendance at work never suffered — nor did his ability to participate fully in family activities.

“He never would allow it to impact his involvement with the family,” Chris adds. “He just dealt with the pain.”

At 39, John was young compared to the average hip-replacement patient.

“Most of my patients are between 50 and 70,” Dr. Drayer says.

His age and ability to endure pain, coupled with the limited lifetime expectancy of about 30 years for a top-of-the-line replacement hip, prompted Dr. Drayer to suggest that John delay surgery for as long as possible.

“You just let me know when you’re ready,” he told his patient. But he cautioned John against subjecting his hip to any further impact.

“When it’s time to replace it, you want to make sure there’s some pelvic bone left for me to attach your new hip to,” Dr. Drayer warned.

Dr. Drayer’s decision suited John to a T.

“The primary reason I delayed having my hip replaced was a fear that it would restrict my ability to remain active,” John says.

Heeding his doctor’s advice, he switched from running to a lower-impact sport: bicycling. “I did that for about two years,” he says. “But eventually, after riding for about two hours, my lower back would start hurting.”

John was no stranger to back pain. Years earlier, he’d undergone back surgery for pain that he now confidently attributes to his hip ailment.

“The back surgery did wonders for my back,” John says. “But I still had the same problem that caused the original back pain in the first place. The two key reasons that made me decide to have the surgery was that I was losing more and more flexibility in my hip, and I knew there was only so much flexibility I would regain after my hip was replaced. I didn’t want to lose anymore. That, and my back was constantly out of alignment. When the pain started giving me trouble again, I knew it was time to get my hip replaced.”

Papa’s got a brand-new hip

Today, John couldn’t be happier with his brand-new hip.

“I feel like the whole world has opened itself up to me again,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m excited about each change in the seasons, because there’s a new activity to do. There’s skiing and ice skating in the winter, then you start to transition to hiking. And fall is a key time for mountain biking.”

He’ll really put himself to the test with the 2007 Iceman Cometh Challenge — a 27-mile point-to-point mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City. Traditionally held on the first Saturday of November each year, the course consists of dirt roads, two-tracks, abandoned railroad beds, the Vasa Nordic ski trail and the breathtaking terrain of Pere Marquette State Forest. The challenge offers participants a chance to win $23,200 in cash prizes and $10,000 in merchandise prizes.

But John would be the first to say that the true value of his new hip simply can’t be measured in monetary terms.

“Before, I couldn’t stand very long and when I did, it was on my left leg. With my new hip, I no longer have to worry about issues like that. And last fall, I was able to coach my 10-year-old son’s football team.”

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