(Calhoun, Ga) — Ultra athlete and Gordon Hospital employee Gregg Ellis recently became the first person ever to complete a 100-mile endurance run following a total hip replacement.
But, he quickly admits that he did not achieve this milestone all by himself. The achievement was only made possible thanks to his orthopedic surgeon, his therapists, and most importantly, his God.
“At first I didn’t understand and was upset about having to have hip replacement surgery because I knew what it could mean to my running,” says Ellis, who works serves as a Patient Access Supervisor for Gordon Hospital. “So I prayed and decided to just trust God. We don’t always understand His ways and plan but there is always a bigger picture involved.”
Running became a very important part of Ellis’ life five years ago after he completed treatment for a 10-year alcohol and drug addiction at the Dalton-based substance abuse treatment center, Carter Hope Center.
“Running literally saved my life,” Ellis says. “It kept me clean after completing my treatment at Carter Hope Center.”
As a way to show his appreciation to the center, Ellis participated in several fundraisers in which he has raised more than $60,000 for the center. The first fundraiser was an indoor ironman competition in 2010 during which he swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles.
In 2011, he participated in his first 24 Hours of Hope event where he ran for 24 consecutive hours on a treadmill. With friends and family running alongside, he ran 100.5 miles. The next year, his goal was to run the equivalent of five marathons on a treadmill in 24 hours. He beat that goal after running 131 miles, ranking him 4th in the United States and 14th in the world for distance in 24 hours.
Then the unthinkable happened.
“I had been seeing Dr. Andrew Hester at Northwest Georgia Orthopedics and Sports Medicine for various running-related issues like stress fractures and other minor issues,” Ellis says. “When I started having some hip pain, he ordered some tests.”
After seeing the images from a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) taken of Ellis’ hip, Dr. Hester diagnosed him with stage four Avascular Necrosis, a debilitating hip disorder that requires surgery for a total hip replacement.
“I was really devastated,” Ellis says. “Running is the one thing doctors tell you not to do following hip replacement. I tried swimming and biking, but they just weren’t the same.”
Knowing his patient and his passion for running, Dr. Hester offered Ellis some hope.
“He told me, ‘I know you’re going to run anyway, but let’s do it my way,’” Ellis explained. “A hip replacement typically lasts between 25 and30 years, but running cuts the life of the hip in half. I’d rather be able to run for the next 15 to 20 years of my life than not. It was an easy decision for me.”
Following the successful hip replacement surgery, Dr. Hester’s plan for getting Ellis back in running form included six months of extensive physical therapy through PT Solutions at Gordon Hospital and Clinical Director Matt Graziano.
“Matt and his staff were awesome,” Ellis says. “I can’t say enough about them. Dr. Hester and PT Solutions gave me my life back.”
Graziano says Ellis deserves the credit for his recovery.
“Gregg is one of the hardest workers I know and probably one of the most positive and encouraging, too,” Graziano says. “He gave 110 percent every day. At his level of athleticism, most people would never get back to that level after hip replacement surgery. But he did.”
Dr. Hester agrees.
“Gregg has always been highly motivated and this just goes to show how important attitude is in every aspect of your life,” Dr. Hester explains. “He set his mind to it and has done amazing things. All the credit of his recovery goes to Mr. Ellis. I had the easy part. He is the one who put his blood, sweat and tears into his recovery. Huge congratulations go to him. I am just privileged to have been a part of his success.”
Less than a year after his surgery, Ellis completed the Umstead 100 in North Carolina, the largest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race along the east coast, making him the first person to do so with an artificial hip.
Ellis completed the race in 28.24 hours earning him the prestigious belt buckle only awarded to those who finish the race within the 30-hour time frame.
“I’m not as fast as I used to be,” he says, “nor am I a naturally-gifted runner. I just won’t quit.”
He used a headlamp for night running and only stopped briefly for food, water or Gatorade.
“I burned 14,000 calories,” he said, smiling. “After I finished, I ate pizza, made the seven-and-half-hour ride home, and was at work the next day. I was limping some, but I had my belt buckle on and grinning.”
Next, Ellis plans to compete in August with 34 other ultra athletes from around the world in the Six Days in the Dome event, an indoor six-day track race held in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Battling my addictions and overcoming this adversity have taught me a lot of things,” Ellis says. “I have since realized that this was a blessing and a chance to inspire others instead of something bad. It is all how you look at things, really. The human spirit is one of the most powerful things we have. It’s stronger than doubt. If you get your mind right, you can do anything, and I was determined to run again.”