New hip doesn’t slow down Vanderbilt Hall of Fame swimmer Frank Lorge
By all accounts, Frank Lorge, a 2010 Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, is the best swimmer ever to compete for Vanderbilt.
He was undefeated by opponents in dual meets during his career from 1968-1972, a two-time SEC champion in the 200-yard backstroke, and the first SEC swimmer to break two minutes in the 200-yard backstroke.
But after graduation, Lorge didn’t retire from the pool. In 1990 he won the U.S. Masters National Championship in the 200-meter backstroke, and repeated that win again in August 2010 at age 60.
A remarkable feat in itself is made even more astounding by the fact that Lorge was only 10 months recovered from a hip replacement when he competed in the 2010 national championship.
“Ten years ago, it began hurting while I ran. I was just a light runner, three-four miles, two-three times a week. But as I ramped up my training to prepare for the Master’s Nationals, I knew I had to do something about my hip,” Lorge said.
He heard about a new procedure called Birmingham hip resurfacing, named after the city in England where it was first done in 1997, and consulted with surgeons around his Little Rock, Ark., home. One recommended the procedure, others wanted to do the traditional total hip replacement, and Lorge realized he would be picking his procedure just by choosing a surgeon.
There was also the issue of timing. Lorge knew hip surgery would be inevitable, but wasn’t sure whether he should have it before or after the 2010 Nationals. One surgeon in Little Rock wanted to perform the procedure right away because additional wear could make him ineligible for hip resurfacing. But this meant Lorge would miss the 2009 competition, which was crucial preparation for his target 2010 meet.
“This is not minor surgery”
So he decided to return to Vanderbilt to let Andrew Shinar, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, be the tiebreaker.
“I knew Dr. Shinar was trained to do the Birmingham hip and was head of Joint Replacement at Vanderbilt and was probably one of the best in the country. I decided I would go with whatever he said,” Lorge explained.
Hip replacements are needed when the cartilage in the ball-and-socket hip joint wears out and bone rubs on bone, which can be extremely painful. In the traditional total hip replacement, the ball at the top of the femur bone, as well as one to two inches of femur, are removed and a new metal ball on top of a stem is embedded into the tube of the femur. Hip resurfacing removes just a centimeter of bone from the femoral head to fit on a metal cap. Both procedures implant a new cup into the hip socket to receive the ball, but total hip replacement uses a plastic cup, which wears more, while hip resurfacing uses a metal cup.
Hip resurfacing is generally done in younger male patients who are very active, the exact description of Frank Lorge.
“The pain relief is the same for both, but the difference we see in activity level is huge,” Shinar said. “You don’t often hear of people running a marathon on total hips, but you hear about that a lot with resurfacing.”
Shinar advised that hip resurfacing would be the best option but told Lorge he could compete in the 2009 national meet in August before having surgery in October.
“I was confidant Mr. Lorge would get back to his normal activity level, but there are always risks. This is not a minor surgery and there can be complications. But his case was remarkable. He is the best athlete I’ve ever seen.”
“Just a little blip”
Lorge described this major surgery as “just a little blip” in his training regimen. He took 10 days off from lifting weights and had to stay out of the pool for four weeks to let the incision heal.
“Everything went so smooth. I had no pain in the hospital and quit my pain meds as soon as I got home. It was definitely stiff and sore but never hurt,” he said.
“On one hand it felt really good to get back in the pool. On the other, I was kicking really light and couldn’t do flip turns on Dr. Shinar’s orders because you have to bend quite a lot. I had to ease back into it, but came back pretty strong pretty quickly.”
After surgery in October, he was back to swimming by Thanksgiving and took it easy through Christmas. By April, he was competing in meets again, but was more concerned about his mental toughness than his physical capabilities.
“Your body and mind forget how to race. I swam in several local meets to get my racing mentality back,” he said.
Lorge, the second of six children, began swimming at age 11 at a pool near his Chicago home.
“My older brother wanted to go out for the team, and that was where all the cute little girls were,” he said with a laugh. “Swimming is an expensive sport today with the coaching fees and pool fees. We swam in a park pool for free and the coach donated his time.”
Though Lorge could swim all the strokes, it quickly became apparent that he was best at backstroke. When it came time to look at colleges, he said he wanted to go to the best school he could. The Vanderbilt swim coach was familiar with the Chicago area and contacted Lorge’s coach at Portage Park about possible recruits.
Lorge studied civil engineering as an undergraduate, and returned to Vanderbilt for a law degree and Master of Science degree in environmental engineering.
“My teammates were all true scholars and athletes. That is unique to Vanderbilt’s athletic program,” Lorge said. “The guys on the swim team are still my best friends today. We put in a lot of hard work but also had a lot of fun.”
Though hip resurfacing is a relatively new procedure and little is known about outcomes beyond 10 years, Shinar estimates that Lorge’s hip is likely to last 30 or 40 years.
“I can’t think of anyone else at that level getting back as fast as he did,” Shinar said. “He is very modest, and you would never know his fitness level. I didn’t know he was a world-class athlete until I read he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Lorge was back at Vanderbilt for his one-year follow-up appointment in October and was cleared for all activities.
“My friend asked about jumping out of airplanes, but Dr. Shinar said he wouldn’t recommend it even though I have no restrictions,” Lorge said. “I don’t plan on breaking it or jumping out of any airplanes, but it is great to have one more bite at the apple.”
To read more about Lorge’s time swimming at Vanderbilt, visit http://www.vanderbilt.edu/alumni/2010/10/frank-lorge.