Doctors told Glen Wagner he’d never run again. Long-distance cycling? Don’t even think about it. But less than a month after his knee replacement, the 61-year-old Naperville pastor returned to power cycling classes and is training for an indoor triathlon and a full Ironman this fall — all without pain killers.
For Glen, competing in these swim/bike/run competitions is fun and empowering. But the most significant achievement is pursuing these physical activities alongside his nine grandchildren.
“I want to run hard with them as long as I can,” says Glen, a Bolingbrook resident and teaching Pastor/Director of Adult Ministries at Good Shepherd Church in Naperville. “I want them to know that Pa can overcome whatever barriers come his way.”
Glen, who is sharing all of his recovery with friends on Facebook (with the hashtags #TitaniumMan, #Palife and #StrongBoy), first started experiencing knee pain in 2016 while running in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, FL.
“Get back to your life.”
He was told by three surgeons that he would never run again. One doctor suggested he switch from running to golf.
But Glen was not ready to give up his passion for the three-sport (swim, bike, run) triathlons. He did extensive research and learned that knee replacement surgeries can be very successful — but also painful.
Through his research, Glen found Richard A. Berger, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Rush who is known his pioneering minimally invasive outpatient knee and hip replacement procedures.
“Dr. Berger told me, ‘I’m giving you this new knee to be active. Get back to your life. Pretend like you never had surgery,’” says Glen.
Physical and mental strength
Together with Dr. Berger and his team, Glen mapped out a recovery training plan. Navigating recovery totally opioid free was crucial for Glen who has struggled with addiction issues. He also conferred with his psychologist to arm himself with a toolkit of techniques, including meditation, breath work, prayer and regular check-ins, to stay accountable to his drug-free pledge.
He never touched the 10-plus prescription medications given to him immediately following the surgeries.
Glen says his knee is now getting back to “pre-pain normal,” his recovery is right on track. He’s back at the gym for Power Cycle classes and he returned to running in a hydro tank and doing core strength and balance workouts, along with attending physical therapy.
“I can picture myself at 85 crossing the finish line.”
“My surgery and recovery have been so successful because Dr. Berger and Rush are innovators,” says Glen. “They broke the mold, and I hope that working with me on getting through the pain without drugs can change the conversation and have a ripple effect for more patients.”
His goal: “To be the oldest man competing in an Ironman,” he says. “I can picture myself at 85 crossing the finish line.”
In the fall, he plans to compete in a full Ironman — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run. Wagner says he will wear a T-shirt that says: “Titanium knee compliments of Richard Berger.”