In October 2013, against all odds and at 60 years of age, Rick Rubio surprised himself by placing 28th in his age group in the Ironman World Championship. He managed a personal best time of 12:39.
Just a few short years earlier no one – not even Rick – would have believed this accomplishment could be possible.
STAYING ALIVE, LIVING LIFE
Born in South Bay, San Francisco into a family of addiction, Rubio’s parents and older brother exposed him to drugs and alcohol at an early age. A poor student with low self-esteem, Rubio used self-medication to cope and began getting drunk and high at age 10. This continued with dire results for 18 years. In desperation Rick entered a 6-week rehab program and, finally, got sober.
Two years later Rick ran his first marathon in a remarkable 3:27. The accomplishment elated him and fueled his desire to stay clean and pursue the exhilaration that his new, healthy lifestyle afforded him. In 1986, stepping up the personal challenge, Rick competed in his first triathlon. He was hooked. Athletics became the only way he could imagine living – an active and healthy life was clearly the most desirable choice.
AN UNEXPECTED HURDLE
In 2003, without warning, Rick started to experience severe pain and range-of-motion issues in his right hip, while training for his first extreme event – the Ironman Triathlon. Though he was aware that physical challenges could happen occasionally in a racing lifestyle, he was unprepared for the seriousness of the problem that began to plague him. After seeking medical help, Rick was shocked by a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips. Determined to participate in the Ironman events despite all indications to the contrary, he decided to continue until the condition disabled him. He managed to complete four Ironman events before the pain completely incapacitated him.
UNDER THE KNIFE
Despite struggling through months of red tape, Rick’s insurance company eventually agreed to pay for the desperately needed hip resurfacing surgery. Rick had repeatedly scheduled and cancelled the procedure due to problems around the hip-joint prosthetic. Throughout the delays, he struggled with staggering pain but, as a recovering addict, he refused to use narcotic medication to help him cope.
Rick finally connected with a respected physician newly trained in the surgery he required. At last, in July 2007, Rick underwent the hip resurfacing operation. Two days later he left the hospital with the assistance of a cane and the determination to bounce back quickly from the setback. He began a very aggressive rehabilitation program that include planning and oversight by his surgeon, physical therapist and a manufactures representative of the prosthetic. Remarkably, just four months following the surgery, Rick had recovered sufficiently to run the 2007 Honolulu Marathon, and followed that up with the Volcano Marathon, just eight months later. Though the pain had not been eliminated, it did not compare to the suffering he had endured before the surgery. And once again he was flying on the exhilaration of his accomplishment.
A LIFE-CHANGING PROGNOSIS
Despite a gradual recovery, over the next four years, Rick continued to experience discomfort during and after training. Assuming it was a permanent side-effect of the procedure and his permanently changed hip, Rick continued to train through the pain. He believed it was what would be required if he wished to continue racing hard. Little did he know that his newly-resurfaced hip was failing.
Following a particularly intense training session for the 2011 Ironman World Championship, which included a 7-hour bike ride, Rick realized that his intense hip pain was not subsiding. Alarmed, his doctor sent him for x-rays. The prognosis rocked Rick’s world: the large metal joint cup, which should have been growing with his hip, had broken out of position and he had been training without a hip socket!
Rick was immediately consigned to crutches and his surgeon delivered the most devastating news he could have imagined: He would never again be able to do impact sports or run. Rick was just a month from competing in the Ironman competition and had a new career as a personal trainer and education-and-events coordinator. He was actively involved in running and multi-sport events. He tried to reconcile the doctor’s words with his reality, but his entire world had turned upside down.
However, Rick was a fighter and refused to give up. He had a good friend in patient advocate, Vicky Marlow, from the Surface Hippy group. With her help he connected with British surgeon, Dr. Derek McMinn, who was co-inventor of Rick’s prosthetic hip. Dr. McMinn was willing to help. The surgeon agreed to attempt a repair which could allow Rick to continue participating in running and impact sports. Rick was elated. Just six weeks after his initial hip implant failed and he’d received his devastating prognosis, he was travelling to England. There, he received the ultimate gift: a successful hip replacement.
DETERMINATION AND A CAN-DO ATTITUDE
Rehabilitation following the new surgery was dramatically slower than Rick had hoped for, as a result of the extensive bone and tissue damage caused by his faulty hip resurfacing. But not even that hurdle could deter his resolve. After a resolute, steady rehabilitation, Rick was ready for a second shot at the Ironman World Championship in October 2013. This was the same race he had been training for when his hip first failed. Just two years and three days after his second hip surgery, Rick completed that Ironman race and demonstrated what a winning attitude could accomplish.
REACHING NEW HIGHS
Rick now has new personal goals he is striving to achieve: to run a 3:55 marathon – something he has not been able to do for 20 years. But he knows he can do it. His race times are faster than they have ever been because he no longer runs with pain. Now, he soars.
Side note update : As of 8/20/2014 I am now facing a 2nd hip resurfacing surgery.