Hip replacement surgery helps Louisville man to cycling world championship

It wasn’t until Curtis Tolson received a hip replacement at Norton Orthopedic Institute that he finally accomplished his longtime goal of winning the Masters Track Cycling World Championship.

Photo by Mike Gladu

Push, pull. Push, pull. Push, pull.

With each powerful pedal, 55-year-old Curtis Tolson propelled himself closer to the finish line. He was determined to step off his bike a champion. Not just a champion. But a world champion.

Push, pull. Push, pull. Push, pull.

He’d competed in this race before. Four times, actually. But something was different this time. He was stronger. This time, one leg wasn’t picking up the slack of the other. Both were pedaling with equal measure.

Push, pull. Push, pull. Push, pull.

He rounded the final bend of the indoor cycling track in Los Angeles and darted past the finish line, beating out athletes from North America, South America, Europe and Australia. He was taking home the gold in his age group. He also took home another world champion title in a team race.

A world champion hip

One of the first people Curtis contacted after the medal ceremony was his orthopedic surgeon, Jonathan Yerasimides, M.D., with Norton Orthopedic Institute.

“I sent him a picture at the podium and a text reading, ‘Dr. Y, it’s official! Your hip is now a world champion!!! Thank you for everything you have done for me.’”

Dr. Yerasimides replaced Curtis’ right hip, which had developed osteoarthritis. Curtis had been pushing through the pain, but he was losing strength in his right leg. He knew it was holding him back from accomplishing his longtime dream of becoming a Masters Track Cycling world champion.

“With a painful joint, you get muscle atrophy and lose strength. He wasn’t able to generate the power he needed to compete at the level he wanted to,” Dr. Yerasimides said. “It’s gratifying to know that you can perform a procedure to help change somebody’s life.”

Surgery changed the game

Hip replacement surgery gave Curtis symmetry of power, which is important in cycling. Cyclists aim for 50 percent power production from each leg during pedal strokes. His left leg was compensating so much for the lack of power in his right leg that he began sitting off-center on his bike saddle, causing back pain.

“The dramatic part was I was ready to just quit racing,” Curtis said. “My hip problem was going to put me out of racing and everything I like to do.”

“He wouldn’t have been able to secure a world champion title in that condition. After his hip replacement, he not only regained power in his right leg, but both legs grew even stronger than his left leg was before surgery,” Dr. Yerasimides said.

Dr. Yerasimides helped reinvigorate Curtis’ determination to become a world champion cyclist.

“He was just 100 percent confident that I was going to be able to ride at a high level again,” Curtis said. “He gave me the confidence to know that I could compete at the level I was at before.”

Less invasive hip replacement

Dr. Yerasimides, one of the pioneers in anterior-approach hip replacements, used the technique with Curtis. The technique allows for faster recovery by accessing the hip from the front, below the waistline. Traditional hip replacement surgery entails incisions from the side or the back.

“There’s no cutting of muscle away from the femur, like in the posterior approach,” Dr. Yerasimides said. “So, there is less muscle damage, which leads to less pain, faster recovery and less dislocation risk.”

Dr. Yerasimides spread Curtis’ muscles apart to access the hip joint. He removed the upper part of the femur, as well as the arthritic ball and socket, and replaced them with implants made of titanium, ceramic and polyethylene.

For many patients, like Curtis, they go home the same day.

“The only people who are not good candidates for outpatient hip surgery are those who are elderly or don’t have anyone to help them at home, as well as people who are morbidly obese to the point where they struggle to mobilize after surgery,” Dr. Yerasimides said.

“I walked out of the hospital that day,” Curtis said. “I was a little sore, but considering they sawed a portion of my femur off and replaced it with an implant amazes me that I was able to walk out of there with just a cane.”

Louisville’s hip care innovator

Norton Orthopedic Institute’s high level of care has merited the Gold Seal of Approval for knee and hip replacement from The Joint Commission — a top nationwide accreditation organization.

Learn more

Pedaling within days, riding within weeks and preparing to compete

Eleven days after surgery, Curtis was back to cycling. He began pedaling on a stationary bike without any resistance. Within six weeks he was cleared to ride outside.

“It takes about three months to get 100 percent recovered,” Dr. Yerasimides said.

When Curtis started his hip replacement journey, he had a two-year plan to achieve his goal of becoming a cycling world champion. He figured that would give him enough time to recover and train.

He underwent surgery in November 2016.

In October 2017 he competed in the cycling world championship to see how his new hip would fare.

“While I could go out and ride all day, I didn’t yet have the real high-end explosive power back, yet,” Curtis said. “And in cycling, you live and die in a race by that.”

He didn’t expect a spectacular performance, yet still he outperformed how he’d done in the world championship several years prior to his hip issues.

When the Masters Track Cycling World Championship came around again this past October, Curtis was stronger than ever and was confident he had what it was going to take to win.

“During that race it was in the back of my mind that everyone knows you have an artificial hip; they’re turning it into an excuse for you — so let’s prove that it’s not a handicap, and I did,” Curtis said.

And he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

“I have plans to defend my title in 2019.”


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