About Richard Steadman
and things no one else was doing. Through that he got the feedback he needed that these ideas worked.”
The right intuitions
Steadman learned his intuition was right. Motion after surgery promoted healing. His ski racing patients helped him prove his theories were sound.
“Most physicians don’t have what I had, which was a group of people that were totally motivated, they weren’t making any money, they were just motivated and they wanted to be the best,” Steadman said. “If I told them to jump off the roof, they would do it. But I learned from them. They would come up with things that went beyond what I had told them they could do. Their athletic intuition was helpful.”
In 1990 Steadman was lured here by former Vail Associates owner George Gillett and Nelson, then Vail’s director of skiing. They enticed him by promising support for research in a foundation known today as the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.
Steadman pioneered microfracture techniques which utilize the body’s healing properties to replace damaged articular knee cartilage — which does not regenerate — with fibrous cartilage that can perform the same function. Steadman didn’t realize it at the time, but it worked because the body’s stem cells produced the fibrous cartilage following the microfracture.
Through that he discovered that by using the “healing response” technique, torn ACLs sometimes reattach to the bone by themselves without having to suture them, allowing an athlete to resume training much earlier. He tried that on Bode Miller after he blew out a knee at the 2001 world championships. A year later at the Salt Lake City Games, Miller claimed his first Olympic medal.
“I recognized that ligaments didn’t just go away, that if they were torn close to the bone, sometimes they partially healed,” said Steadman, who retired in 2014. “The same technique I used to form cartilage at the end of the bone, if I used that procedure in the area where the ligaments attached — and created an environment where the ligament could accept the healing process that I’d created — I could (avoid) the full reconstruction.”
The Grateful Steady racers commissioned a $100,000 bronze bust of Steadman, which they unveiled last week. One will be on display at the clinic in Vail, another at U.S. Ski Team headquarters in Utah. They more than covered the cost with donations, raising an extra $50,000 for the research institute.
“I don’t think he ever really understood his genius, or realized how unique it was,” Nelson said. “And he’s so humble that when we compliment him or ask him about his gifts or his genius, he downplays it. But we all know we had the blessing to be treated by truly one of the great physicians of all time. It was a magical time for us. And for the U.S. Ski Team.”
In addition to her Olympic medal, Cooper won three world championships medals in a career that spanned 1977-84.
“I couldn’t have won any of those medals without Richard Steadman,” Cooper said. “End of story.” John Meyer: email@example.com or @johnmeyer Born: 1937 in Sherman, Texas Education: Bachelor’s of science, Texas A&M, 1959; medical degree, University of Texas Southwestern, 1963 Army (drafted): 1966-70, primarily stationed in Germany Orthopedic practice: 197090 in Lake Tahoe, Calif., 1990-2014 in Vail
From left, former U.S. Ski Team athletes Debbie Armstrong, Christin Cooper, Tamara McKinney, Cindy Nelson and Eva Twardokens with their Olympic and world championships medals pose with Dr. Richard Steadman at a celebration in his honor last weekend in Vail. Courtesy of Shane Macomber Photography