Each month, find out what motivates ORA Orthopedics’ physicians to practice and treat patients in the Quad Cities in our What Moves Me feature.
Meet ORA Orthopedics Surgeon: Dr. Thomas VonGillern
Name: Dr. Thomas VonGillern
Years in Practice: 40
Specialty: Orthopedic surgery for the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
Why is skiing one of your favorite sports?
I first saw the Rocky Mountains at age 8, while visiting relatives in Colorado. I was fascinated by their size. I have loved skiing since I first tried it in the 1960’s. My older brother initiated my interest in skiing.
My nature is that I don’t like to stand still or sit idle. I like to move fast. I enjoy the vigorous physical activity, the constant movement, and the wide variety of skills needed to ski accurately and efficiently.
Tell us about your role as a certified ski instructor.
I teach all levels, from “never-evers” to experts who can “ski anything — any terrain, any conditions, anytime.” I usually teach adults, only rarely teaching children. I also guide groups of technically proficient skiers in any terrain.
It is a blast. It is just the essence of skiing: just follow me and keep up! Those days, my office is the entire mountain: It gives me good views and makes me smile. Every run down the mountain gives me personal feedback and a chance to think a lot.
My interest in teaching had a natural evolution. I found the more that I would learn about skiing, the more I wanted to know.
I have always found the best way to learn any skill is to force yourself to learn enough to teach that skill. I found whenever I was skiing, others would ask me how to do different maneuvers. So I was teaching all along, and suddenly I decided that to get to the next level for my own skiing, I needed to teach formally. So I started the formal instructor progression.
I primarily teach at Copper Mountain Resort in Copper Mountain, Colorado. I am certified to teach in any resort in the U.S., but my registered region is the Rocky Mountain Division with its 36 or so resorts.
Where is your favorite ski destination?
Copper Mountain is my favorite. Although I have access to free lift tickets at most ski resorts, I stay primarily at Copper. It is at a higher altitude so it is colder and has more snow. It has more high alpine terrain — a greater percentage of expert terrain above the timberline. There are fewer novice skiers.
When I ski my favorite runs there, Patrol Chute and Ore Deal, every run is totally different. You can become “one with the mountain.” Every run teaches me something and makes me understand it better. But you need to take great care because the mountain can always win.
What is your best skiing moment or memory?
Snow cat skiing at Island Lake Lodge in British Columbia, Canada: unbelievably deep snow and very few people. Skiing deep powder is the closest thing to weightlessness on the planet. You literally find yourself laughing going down the mountain.
Dream mountains to ski one day?
The Alps. You can ski from villages in one country to villages in another country. How cool is that?
From an orthopedic perspective, what is it about skiing that is great for people of any age?
It is great exercise for the entire musculoskeletal system. It is repetitive weight bearing, uses all muscle groups, and is a great cardio workout. It burns calories and is great fun. Try it and you will be hooked.
What made you decide to become an orthopedic surgeon?
I share my father’s interest in woodworking and carpentry. There are a lot of parallels in orthopedic surgery.
What do you like best about practicing medicine?
I enjoy helping patients obtain better function and relief of pain. I love surgery. I love to look into things, determine what is wrong, and fix it. Interestingly enough, I’m also a US Ski Team physician for both the men’s and women’s teams.
What inspires you most about your patients?
Most are straightforward and just want to get better. I enjoy patients who take their share of responsibility to get healed.
If there were one piece of advice to give patients for staying fit and strong, especially after an injury or surgery, what would it be?
You only get one body. Take care of it. Nobody can have more input and affect on your health than you. Your healthcare is a process that takes a team approach. You are part of that team, so do your part.