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Kopac's Corner

A Really Hip Runner

by Bob Kopac

"It should be the function of medicine to help people die young as late in life as possible." Ernst Wynder

Austin Isherwood did not mean to do things backwards, it just worked out that way. Normally a person stops running after a hip replacement. Austin, on the other hand, did not start running until 3 years after he had a hip replacement at age 55. And boy, does he run!

It all started when Austin was young and suffered a mild case of polio. Because of the illness, the left side of his body developed to a much greater degree than his right side. In spite of his physical condition, Austin played baseball in high school and had a 21-year career as a New York City policeman. However, the imbalance of his body eventually necessitated a left hip replacement. This would have been the end of the story, if not for a serendipitous encounter.

One day Austin came across Leo Nicholas, who was the race director for the College Point Road Runners Club, painting lines on the road. When asked why, Leo said the lines were markings for the Gabriel Vitale 5K Memorial Run. Gabriel Vitale was a policeman who had died in a shootout 3 months after Austin had retired. Since Austin had known Gabe since childhood, he decided to run the 5K in memory of his fallen comrade. However, Austin did not know what was meant by a "5K" or how long it would take to run one. Leo said, "About 30 to 35 minutes." So Austin ran his first race-on an artificial hip-and finished in 34 minutes. From then on, Austin was hooked on running.

By joining the College Point Road Runners Club and doing training runs, Austin was able to reduce his 5K time to a personal record (PR) of 23:50 at the Greg Tubby 5K in City Island, Bronx, New York. Austin next set his sights on longer races. He ran several half marathons, notably in Puerto Rico, Ireland, and the New York City 5 Borough races. Not satisfied with half marathons, Austin decided to attempt the most famous runner's distance-the marathon.

After diligent training with his track club, he successfully completed the 1998 New York City Marathon in 4:46. He enjoyed the experience so thoroughly, he also ran the 1999 (4:36 PR) and 2000 New York City Marathons. His one concession to his physical condition was that he ran the marathons with a full right leg brace.

Austin completed the 2001 Athens, Greece Marathon in spite of horrendous weather conditions. That year, Greece had the worst rain in 50 years. The runners had to run the first half mile of the race through knee-deep water. Then the course went into the mountains, where Austin ran through snow flurries. Finally he finished the last 6 miles running downhill.

His hip surgeon, Dr. Fred Jaffe, told Austin that, after the New York City and Athens Marathons, there was no reason for Austin to run anymore--all other races would be anticlimactic. Austin just smiled.

Austin's doctor does not really recommend patients running after a hip replacement. However, Austin says, "My other option is I could be sedentary and die of a heart attack." Because there is a chance of bone loss around the hip replacement due to running, Austin gets yearly checkups. He said he would seriously consider stopping if he started to have bone deterioration. Fortunately, he has not suffered any bone loss in over 10 years of running. The 5 foot 8 inch Austin attributes this to his light weight-150 pounds.

For training, Austin runs 30 to 35 miles a week in the New York City area and in Pleasant Valley, New York. Twice a week he runs near the 1964 World's Fair site in Queens, New York. On Sunday he runs at the Rockefeller Preserve in Pocantico, New York because he enjoys running on the dirt horse trails. He has seen elite runners Tegla Loroupe and Khalid Khannouchi during his training runs.

Austin tries to run on grass, dirt, or soft tracks as much as possible, although his long runs are on the asphalt roadways. When he ran the New York City Marathon, he deliberately avoided running on the concrete bus pads that are by the curbs, especially in Brooklyn.

For 2003, he is setting his sights on the Dutchess County Classic Half or Full Marathon and then running in Rome or Venice, Italy with the College Point Road Runners Club. Austin says that he most enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow runners, especially those in his running club.

Although he knows that running is not for all people who have had hip replacements, he says it has had a positive aspect on his life. He is very glad he is able to run on an artificial hip.