Tara Lipinski's Hip Is HealingBARRY WILNER , Associated Press
Dec. 20, 2000 2:07 AM ET
NEW YORK (AP) _ Besides being an Olympic gold medalist, Tara Lipinski is a mall rat. When she could barely walk around while shopping, Lipinski knew she had problems.
Those problems turned out to be torn hip cartilage, which threatened her career. At 18, the 1998 Nagano Olympic champion was faced with surgery or quitting.
``The doctor said maybe in a month, it would have locked on me,'' she said, shuddering at the thought. ``I couldn't imagine my life without skating.
``I never realized I was hurt so badly. It bothered my back, and my knees were so stiff, there were days I couldn't brush my teeth.''
The wear and tear of her sport, from the pounding on landing all those triple jumps to the rapid shifts in positioning on spins, took a severe toll on Lipinski. Her mother, Pat, believes the hip troubles began before the Olympics, and it progressively worsened until she underwent surgery in September.
``It's a huge shock when you sitting in bed and you can't get up,'' Lipinski said. ``I'd go to the mall and I couldn't walk more than 15 minutes, and I'd have to sit down. When I was at Disney World, which is my favorite place, I couldn't go around the parks. ...
``I can't explain how bad it was. Even at the Olympics, I felt some pain, but not like what it eventually got like. I thought it was just torn muscles. But right after the Olympics, when it got bad, we had MRIs, and (doctors) said it would be just fine. But it shouldn't take seven months to come back from a torn muscle.''
So after dozens of doctor visits and eight MRIs, she was in such pain that she consulted Dr. Marc Philippon, who operated on golfers Greg Norman and Steve Elkington and Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler. Philippon discovered the tear and suggested immediate surgery.
``I was shocked. I didn't want surgery,'' she said.
``When Tara found out, she was devastated,'' said Elkington, who lives near Lipinski in Houston. ``Me? I was elated, because I knew everything was going to turn around. I knew there was something wrong with my back and hip, and it wasn't just me thinking it.
``And there was a cure for it.''
Lipinski called surgery ``the worst scenario.'' But she also knew that without it, her skating career was over.
``The doctors said skating is the hardest of anything on the hip,'' she said, noting that while on tour she would perform several routines a night perhaps five times a week. ``It was going on way too long and I couldn't live in that pain and it would probably have shortened my career.''
The operation, which can take as little as 45 minutes, lasted 3 1/2 hours because Lipinski had cartilage overgrowing the bone and was developing arthritis.
Next came a long rehab _ except not too many 18-year-old women are patient enough to deal with being sidelined for months. Lipinski was back on the ice seven days later for some light practice.
``The doctor was not happy,'' she said, ``but he realized even if it hurts, I want to do it.''
Less than a month later, at rehearsals for the Stars on Ice tour, Lipinski was unable to handle even some of the simplest maneuvers. Normally, she would be on the ice for as much as 10 hours, sharpening the routines, working with Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning and the other cast members.
``It was killing her, you could just see it. She's such an energetic person and loves being out in front of the audience, and there she was, unable to skate with us,'' Hamilton said.
``All I did was cry,'' Lipinski admitted. ``The thought of having to miss this year, Scott's last in Stars on Ice, that hurt so bad.''
Although she had to withdraw from the World Professional Championships earlier this month _ she wasn't about to compete without triple jumps in her repertoire _ Lipinski expects to be ready for the tour opener on Dec. 28 in Greensboro, N.C.