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Two Achilles and an Ironman

Finishing a half Ironman – 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running – is an accomplishment for any athlete. But doing it after having surgery on both feet for bone spurs and Achilles tendon tears goes way beyond competitive. Especially when your surgeon is your training partner and old friend.

“I started noticing the pain in my feet when I was still in the Navy,” said Glenn Hopper, 49, of Lebanon, Tennessee. An avid endurance runner, he did 3-4 marathons a year, and had run cross country and track since high school in Memphis at White Station. “I knew it was slowing me down, but I didn’t want to think about surgery and recovery, so I just powered through … until I couldn’t.”

Luckily for Hopper, one of his longtime friends – they met in 8th grade and later hiked the Grand Canyon together (see photo) – was David Richardson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Campbell Clinic who specializes in the foot and ankle. Though Hopper lives in Middle Tennessee, where he works as a chief financial officer for a legal technology company, he said he knew from the beginning that “I would be reaching out to my old friend David to discuss treatment options.”

“Glenn had insertional Achilles tendinitis – a fraying of the heel cord where it inserts into the heel bone – on both feet,” said Dr. Richardson. “But he was really motivated and already conditioned.” Dr. Richardson did the first surgery in January of 2017 and the other side nine months later.

“It was tough not being able to put any pressure your foot when you’re practically addicted to running,” Hopper said, though he’d “call Dave to get his permission before I did anything.”

The good news: When Hopper was finally able to begin running again, he was 100 percent pain-free. “I can’t believe how long I waited to have this corrected,” Hopper said.

Though the friends hadn’t run together in years, Dr. Richardson said, “When I heard about the Ironman event in Memphis, I immediately thought of Glenn. What better way to celebrate his recovery and our 50th birthday year? The fact that it benefited St. Jude and was being covered by Campbell Clinic, both institutions that have been extremely important in my life, makes it extra special.”

The day of the race was pouring rain that changed to high humidity during the run; not ideal conditions!

The friends agreed that the race was much more fun in hindsight. Hopper’s Achilles rehab held up, though: “I told Dave at the end of the race that my ankles were about the only part of my body that didn’t hurt!”

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