Why I Move celebrates the spirit and determination of Quad Citians who have recovered from injury or treatment to pursue their life’s passions. Meet avid canoeist Russell Hoover, 61, Milan, IL, who is back in his canoe following shoulder surgery.
Paddling Forward with Boundary Water Buddies
By Russell Hoover, Milan, IL, avid canoeist
Like many people, I think I simply took my mobility and health for granted. I had a chronic rotator cuff problem that deteriorated over a period of time, and then suddenly failed completely. I was sledding with my grandson, we went down a hill together, I simply rolled off the sled at the bottom, and when I reached out to stop myself, my shoulder went “pop,” or more accurately, it made the exact sound of a chicken leg being disjointed. An explosion of pain and my arm went numb and cold all the way to my fingers; it was like cutting the string on a marionette. I simply could not lift my arm — not a single inch. My injury was devastating as I had been active for most of my life in the martial arts, coaching wrestling and always taking my favorite canoe trips up to the Boundary Waters at the Minnesota and Canadian border.
The day my shoulder failed was a real shock to me. I assumed I could get it repaired at any time convenient to me and just go on my merry way. In a single second I became severely limited in my ability to do the most simple and mundane tasks. The pain was incredible, and it was unrelenting. It was impossible to sleep for more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, I couldn’t lift a bag of groceries into the trunk of my car with my right arm. The bigger shock came when I sought treatment. I was told my injury was so severe that there was doubt about whether it could be effectively repaired. I was definitely “sweating bullets!”
A Year to Regain Full Strength
I was referred to Dr. Steven Boardman, ORA Orthopedics, who told me I likely would need a muscle transfer to build a new cuff. My rotator cuff was completely torn and multiple tendons were damaged. I was delighted when he was able to do a “primary” repair and put the original cuff back together with the addition of an allograft. (An allograft is tissue taken from one person’s body for another person.)
My surgery was long, the recovery was painful, but I had an excellent surgeon, and an equally excellent physical therapist, Steve Layer of Rock Valley Physical Therapy. Therapy began the day after my stitches came out. It started slowly, the first two weeks were nothing but passive stretching: progress was rapid, full motion was restored in a matter of a few weeks, and then strengthening exercises completed my recovery. It was very hard work! I was given full release from therapy about four months later. It took at least 18 months to regain close to my full strength. I can’t say enough about Steve Layer and his contribution to my rehabilitation. He taught me the exercises that I still use to keep my shoulder working smoothly. It couldn’t have been done without him.
Dr. Boardman released me with no restrictions and I resumed my full range of activities and I was delighted to return to the Boundary Waters the year after the surgery. I was a little nervous about the ability of my repaired cuff to handle the strain of a 10- hour day in a canoe, but amazingly, I had no problems whatsoever.
S’mores and Smiles
After a full day of fighting wind and current, portaging canoes and packs, my shoulder never was an issue. I never had any soreness or pain. The big payoff is at the end of the day, sitting around a campfire with my best friend, son and grandson, David, who requires “smores” and instant hot cocoa to keep him fueled. My buddy Phil Kapraun is a constant, his wife Janet usually goes, but not this summer. The changing dynamic from year to year keeps it interesting.
I can honestly say I can do anything I want, I just need to be smart about it. To put it into perspective, consider that a person who sustained that kind of injury would have been permanently disabled just a few decades ago. Being able to resume normal, unrestricted activity after losing it was incredible.
There are so many things to do, so many places to see, and to be able to do it with the people I love is a wonderful thing. Phil and I have discussed our transition into senior canoe camping in the Boundary Waters. We plan to be doing it well into our ‘70s. My advice for everyone? Don’t take it for granted, don’t put it off, don’t settle for less!