Dr. Nick DiGiovine knows what he is talking about.
The Butte orthopedic surgeon graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame and was a team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers before moving to town. Dr. DiGiovine still consults with the Steelers during the NFL Combine.
About 10 years ago during a Montana Tech football game, Dr. DiGiovine told me I should give up running and start riding a mountain bike instead. I had just completed my second marathon, and my knees were paying the price.
I shook off the doctor’s words, figuring I would be a runner into my 80s.
My ignorance was reinforced one game when Dr. DiGiovine showed up with his arm in a sling.
“What happened?” I asked.
It turns out Dr. DiGiovine took a nasty spill on his bike. He went over the handlebars and broke his collarbone.
I could not help but laugh at the doctor, who has long been one of my favorite people to talk to.
“I have never gone over the handlebars while running,” I said.
Dr. DiGiovine did not say anything. I am sure he just knew that he would eventually get the last laugh.
I ran a couple of more marathons because I was addicted to running and addicted to having that training goal. I felt great when I was able to run, mentally at least. I felt physically sick when I could not.
When the world was too much to put up with, I could drop everything, lace up the running shoes and go for a jog. Then, everything would be OK.
It was amazing how everything would always be alright after a run. It was like free therapy.
Then, my hips and groin started to hurt. For a long time, I ignored the pain and kept running because it only hurt after I ran.
I mistook pain from two hip labrum tears and a muscle tearing off my pelvic bone, thinking it was just scar tissue from multiple hernia surgeries.
One day before my 46th birthday last April, my body finally broke all the way down.
I went for an evening run on the walking trail between Butte and Rocker. I put on some John Prine on earbuds, and the dog and I headed out for what I hoped would be a 7-mile jog along Silver Bow Creek.
It turns out, I could only make it a half a mile. I had to slowly limp back to my truck with a very confused dog. I had one hand on the stabbing pain on the back of my hip, and I felt like crying.
It was not the pain that made me want to cry. It was that I knew my running days were over, and I felt like I was going to turn 86, not 46.
That long, sad walk led to a long, sad summer, fall and winter.
Living through a pandemic was challenging enough mentally on all of us. It was compounded on me because I could not go out and get my free running therapy.
I was able to walk my dogs the whole time, but every step hurt. I came close to breaking down and getting a cane to help me get along.
Thankfully, former Butte High pitcher Ashley (Zimpel) Wold at Lone Peak Physical Therapy put me on the right path to recovery. She made me believe that I would once again feel my own age again.
When I started feeling better because of Ashley’s wisdom, I finally took the advice of Dr. DiGiovine and got a bike.
I went to Bad Beaver Bikes on Park Street to buy a nice bike because I planned on diving right into becoming a mountain biker, even though I never really rode a bike since the late 1980s.
I bought some bike shorts with the pads in the butt because I was told they are essential. I did not go with the spandex shorts because that is something no man should do.
Despite feeling like a dork, I put on a helmet to ride a bike for the first time in my life. Luckily, my wife and daughters assured me that I look like a dork without the helmet, too, so it did not hurt my image.
Then, I went for a ride and discovered that I absolutely love it. I have been on the bike about an hour every day since I bought it three days before my 47th birthday.
Going in, I figured biking would be either too hard or two easy while riding on the hills of the Mining City. The thing I liked about running was settling into my pace and just going.
It turns out that the easy parts are when you have the most fun, especially on the trails. It is also a decent upper-body workout controlling the bike when heading down hill on the trails around town.
I cannot wait to go try out the trails at Thompson Park and maybe even get in a few rides on the Continental Divide Trail.
For the first time in a couple of years, I actually feel like I can do something kind of athletic. No longer do I feel sad when I get to see other people run down the street.
I feel like I’m 47 instead of 87.
While I have been biking for less than a month, it has finally filled the huge void left from not being able to run. It helps clear my head.
When the world gets to be too much, I just drop everything and grab my bike.
My first ride, though, was a bit of a rude awakening. I started on the walking trail up town and huffed and puffed my way up past the Mountain Con Mine to the Granite Mountain Memorial.
Then I rode behind Walkerville to the Big M, and planned to zig zag my way down the back side of the M, past Montana Tech and back to the walking trail.
I zoomed around some of the trails and before hitting a path that I thought would easily take me down the hill.
The sign said Aspen Coulee as I turned onto the trail. I was going fast enough that I did not notice the black diamond on the sign. I thought black diamonds were only for skiing.
As I quickly realized I was in way over my head, I hit the brakes on both sides. It was at that moment that I found out that the fancy disk brakes of today’s new bikes are a lot better than the ones I rode as a kid.
I flipped right over the handlebars. The rocks that I landed on were not very soft, but I did not break my collarbone.
My brand-new bike had a few scratches on the handlebars, and I had some scrapes on my hip, elbow, both knees and hands.
I got up, dusted myself off and examined the bike. I looked around to make sure nobody saw what I had just done. Nobody did.
Somehow, though, as my blood dripped on that black diamond trail, I could hear Dr. DiGiovine laughing at me.
— Bill Foley, who did not graduate magna cum lade from Notre Dame, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles743 comments