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by Daniel Paulling

August 8, 2017

They believe active people undergoing joint replacement have better outcomes

AnnLiv Bacon knew she had to find another doctor.

The Minnesota Masters Swim Club swimmer needed to have her left shoulder replaced in 2012, and she says her doctor told her she should quit the sport because of its potential to wear on the joint. But Bacon, who had swum for much of her life and had only recently joined a Masters club, loved swimming too much to give it up.

“I looked at him and thought to myself, ‘No, I think I’ll just quit you,’” says Bacon, who worked as a nurse and found another doctor who said she could keep swimming.

She was one of several swimmers who had undergone joint replacement surgery and competed at the 2017 U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship in Minneapolis last weekend, a meet that drew more than 1,000 participants.

The 75-year-old Bacon and another swimmer at the meet who has undergone joint replacement surgery, the 80-year-old Owen Ackerman of Illinois Masters, hope they can teach two lessons to the seven million-plus Americans who have had a joint replaced: that being in shape heading into the surgery can make a major difference and that undergoing the surgery doesn’t mean the end of a swimming career.

Ackerman, who swam backstroke at Illinois and began swimming Masters in the 1980s, has shown his work ethic in a career that includes 34 Top 10s in the backstroke events.

Ackerman had his right hip replaced in 2013 and the left hip in September 2016. Just 19 days after his second surgery, he broke his left femur in a fall and had to have his left hip replaced again. The injury kept him out of the water for more than three months.

“Don’t say ‘a tough go,’” Ackerman says. “Just a little glitch, and you deal with it.”

He began training again in January during his annual winter trip to Panama City Beach, Fla., where he swims with a friend. Ackerman didn’t consider himself ready for the 2017 Nationwide USMS Spring National Championship in Riverside, Calif., in April, so he targeted Summer Nationals, which was the first long course meet of his life.

Ackerman won the men’s 80-84 50 backstroke, edging out former Olympic champion Yoshi Oyakawa, and came in second in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. He credits his results to his being in shape heading into surgery less than 10 months earlier.

“My recovery, in my opinion, was dramatically different because of a history of training hard in swimming,” says Ackerman, who is from Peoria, Ill., which is about 150 miles southwest of Chicago. “The body recovered much faster than what a normal person would’ve had going through the same thing. In fact, many people at this stage of life, when they have that, that’s really the start of the end for them when they break something like that. Hopefully, it’s just more testimony that if you take good care of yourself by being active it will pay great dividends for you.”

Bacon agrees—and she’s been under the knife more times than Ackerman. She’s had five joint replacements, including four in the past five years: right hip in 2001, left hip and left shoulder in 2012, right knee last year, and left knee in March. (She adds that osteoarthritis runs on her mother’s side of the family.)

“I heard some people say, ‘I’m having trouble with my shoulder and it scares me because I don’t want to give up swimming,’” Bacon says. “[My competing is] about telling people, even with these joint replacements, you can still really be active. You can really do something and you don’t have to be afraid of it. You’ve got to be smart about it, stay strong, and go in strong, and you’ll recover faster.”

Bacon set a goal of competing at Summer Nationals as part of her rehabilitation, finishing sixth, sixth, and seventh in the women’s 75-79 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke, and 100 backstroke, respectively, and taking part on relay teams that finished first and second.

“It’s really fun at 75 to be on a relay again,” says Bacon, who was competing in her first national championship and is from the suburbs of Minneapolis. “It’s about doing it for the team, and that’s a good feeling.”

Bacon says she may consider doing more USMS meets in the future but now has plans to compete in a triathlon Sunday and continue to do other athletic pursuits.

“People don’t expect 75-year-olds to come back from surgery [number] one versus five and then keep going like this,” she says. “They just sort of have this expectation—I don’t know—that at 75 they’re supposed to sit in a rocking chair or something.”


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