This is what it’s like to run on deformed hips. But really, it’s not so bad
The first thing you should know is that I have deformed hips.
They look normal from the outside, but inside, they’re a sort of adaptation. The femur is straight where it should be bent. The ball is slightly undersized. The socket isn’t fully formed. But they fit together pretty well, considering. There’s even a relatively good amount of cartilage left in the joint.
My hips are like that because I was born with a congenital hip dysplasia – one so severe I had no socket and no ball for the joint. My parents took me around from hospital to hospital trying to figure out if I’d ever walk. Sometimes they drove for hours and had to stay overnight in cities like Chicago or Ann Arbor. Everyone wanted to perform surgery, but they weren’t into that.
Instead, they found a local doctor who worked with my dad to put me into traction in our own home, which I’m told I hated. I was a baby strapped to a board, it must’ve sucked. Then I was in a body cast from waist to ankles, which apparently I loved. I even dragged my little legs behind me in a modified crawl.
My mom’s general attitude when I tried to use my hips as an excuse to get out of stuff as a teen was that she didn’t take me around to all those doctors so I could sit out of gym class. I hated gym class, so believe me, I tried. I actually managed to get a D in P.E. as a Senior in high school, mostly because I had a shitty attitude about organized sports and people telling me what to do. Especially people wearing whistles.
So here’s why I run:
Because I can.
I run because today my legs move beneath my body, over hills and down bumpy rutted trails. I can’t run far, and I don’t run fast. I’m never going to qualify Boston or New York. I’m not going to win a local 5K or even place in my age group. I’m never going to run with grace or style and you shouldn’t expect to see me grinning on the cover of Runner’s World in a sports bra and compression shorts.
But I can run, so I do.
Not always. Sometimes I go through months of pain in my hips that radiates to my knees. Sometimes a mile leaves me limping, my hand pushing my hip in while I trudge back to my car.
When I can’t run, I walk. I like walking up steep cliffs and mountains. I like to climb things I have to dig into with my feet, that leave me out of breath even at a snail’s pace. When walking hurts, I get on a bike. The bike rarely hurts, and I love it whether I’m in a spinning class or on the side of a mountain, negotiating single track.
But there’s something special about stepping out onto the trail with my 100 lb Catahoula mix, Hank, and slowly gaining speed. It’s a meditation. You can’t let your mind drift too far from where your foot is about to step, or you’ll twist an ankle or maybe step on a rattlesnake.
There’s a lot to see if you pay attention on a trail. Little lizards dart back and forth as Hank and I approach, their movements are so familiar to us now, his ears don’t even perk. Squirrels stop to watch us, unamused, until they catch Hank’s sharp gaze and (smartly) run for cover. Today we came across a giant snowy egret poking around in the parched reeds, looking for the last bits of marshland before the drought takes all the tadpoles and frogs. I thought about letting go of Hank’s leash so he could sprint toward the bird for a little thrill, but then realized my boy might just catch the bird, and I’d be devastated.
If my brain drifts too far into my own thoughts, I try to pull it back. I spend too much time there already, planning and worrying and feeling bad about shit I can’t control. So when we’re running, I focus instead on the sounds of our feet on the path, on Hank’s heavy breathing and his big pink tongue flopping out of his mouth. I hear my breath, and make it steady. I try not to hold it in as a I navigate slopes and rocks and cacti. I soften my shoulders as I breathe in. I try to land softly.
Right now running is possible for me, so I do it. I’m not guaranteed many more years on these funny hips, but none of us are guaranteed much. So today I ran, and I’ll do it again on Thursday if my body agrees. Next summer I hope to run the only race I ever run now, The Lakeshore Miracle Run in West Michigan, alongside my cousins and hopefully my sister just like we have in years past. No doubt once again I will run well behind my oldest brother who kicks ass in the 50-59 year olds age group.
I will run through dark forests, on trails padded with hundreds of years of pine needles, where we have to run fast so mosquitos don’t get us. I’ll run along the big lake, the one I grew up swimming in and miss even when I’m in the ocean here in California. I’ll run up over a sand dune you so big you cannot even imagine it’s possible. Every step I take there slides me back six inches. I will run down it, too, each step dropping me three or four yards further into the dark woods below. And I will run across a finish line where, one year, my dad shook his head and said, “You just ran a 10k. Who woulda thunk it.”
I run because I can, and because I may not always be able to.
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