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Hilltoppers Sports

Willing to pay the Price

Posted Sunday, January 18, 2009 by Jake Merrill
La Crosse Tribune Article by Joel Baldinski

ONALASKA — Michael Price can tell you all about taking one step at a time.

The Onalaska High School senior last year had to re-learn how to walk with his right leg, then do it all over again with his left.

Price was diagnosed with femoroacetabular impingements in both his hips — a condition in which misshapen ball-and-socket bones rub together, causing pain and long-term damage— in August 2007. His entire course of treatment, starting last April with the first of two surgeries until the end of rehabilitation, took 28 weeks. Throughout the process, Price pushed himself forward with a single goal.

“Basketball was what I had in mind,” Price said. “If it weren’t for my love of the game, I don’t think I’d have made it in time. To get through it and get back and play was what I was determined to do.”

Price, a 6-foot-4 forward, was cleared to play basketball in time for the first day of practice Nov. 17. He said it wasn’t an emotional moment, just a very satisfying one.

“It’s not that I couldn’t believe it, because I knew I was capable of it,” Price said. “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me; I’m just really proud of what I’ve been able to come back and do. It’s really special and rewarding.”

Price had missed the entire offseason of basketball, meaning no summer leagues, no shooting around on his own, so even though he was declared healthy, he wasn’t anywhere near peak form.

“The first day of practice, I was exhausted after going up and down the court twice,” Price said. “I was completely out of shape.”

But improving that was relatively simple compared to seven months of rehab. Price scored 21 points to lead the young Hilltoppers to an upset win at Central on Jan. 12.

“It’s just a testament to how hard he worked and his desire to get out on the floor,” Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said.

Playing with pain

Price, a three-sport athlete, started feeling pain in his hips and groin during his sophomore year of basketball. The pain was almost constant, but Price worked through it.

The problem continued through golf season and a busy summer during which Price played in golf tournaments, lifted weights, did speed training, played in open gyms and a basketball league and a football passing league.

There were times when he couldn’t put on his own socks or tie his own shoes, and Price remembers his mother, Sue Price, telling him that just wasn’t normal for a 16-year-old.

Sue Price had undergone hip replacement surgery the year before and took Michael to see her specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Lawrence of the Gundersen Lutheran Viroqua Clinic, who made the initial diagnosis.

Lawrence consulted with two other specialists, Dr. Bradley Fowler of Gundersen-Onalaska and Dr. Chris Larson of Minnesota Sports Medicine, and agreed that Price had hip impingements and would need surgery.

Price also had to make a choice between football and basketball.

“They said my hips will only make it one more season,” Price said.

The next day, Price sat down with Hilltoppers football coach Dieter Antoni and gave him the bad news.

“That was really hard for me,” Price said. “But basketball is my love.”

That love was tested as Price played out his junior season.

“(Larson) told me to play with pain being my guide,” Price said. “And it was painful.”

‘Bound and determined’

Price’s first surgery, on his right hip, was performed by Larson on April 9 in Minneapolis, with the next scheduled for June 18. During the 3½-hour procedure, Larson made two one-inch incisions and shaved down bone on both the ball and socket.

The surgery was successful, and Price started on his recovery and rehab. First, that meant keeping all weight off his right leg for two weeks and being on crutches for six weeks.

Then, Price started 10 weeks of rehab at Gundersen Lutheran-Onalaska, working with Scott Straker, a physical therapist.

The process literally started with Price taking small, light steps to put weight on his leg. That progressed to stretching, pool running and weight lifting.

Between the first and second surgeries, Price, an honor student, wrote an essay for his physical education class, since he couldn’t participate.

“This surgery has been very difficult for me,” Price wrote. “I was and am scared but hope for a full recovery. Emotionally, this has been a long, painful, and difficult year for me. ... I hope and pray that all continues to go well and that my second surgery will be less invasive as this one was.”

Price completed his rehabilitation in time to have the surgery on his left hip as scheduled in June. Larson used the same procedure, and except for an infection that developed in the incisions, went as planned.

Again, two weeks of relative inactivity, six months on crutches, then 10 weeks of rehab during the summer. The rehab sessions were three days a week and lasted 2½ hours.

“He talked about how much he loved basketball and that he just wanted to get back playing,” Straker said. “A lot of it with him was talking about the big picture and being patient and diligent.”

Price said there were many days of rehab when he did not feel like being patient. His hips would feel good and he’d want to push the envelope.

Actually, Price had already done that by scheduling his surgeries 10 weeks apart rather than the usual six months, but his doctors agreed it would be OK, and Price knew it had to work that way for him to be ready for basketball.

“He worked extremely hard,” Sue Price said. “There were days when emotionally he was really down, because your friends are out there doing things in the summer and you’re in physical therapy for two grueling hours, but he was bound and determined to play basketball.”

‘Just glad to be out there’

Price endured a series of what must have seemed like minor setbacks after he returned to basketball in November. He suffered a bout of the flu, was poked in the eye during practice and got a scratched cornea, and suffered a cut on his forehead that required stitches during a game at Chippewa Falls.

“He’s a very physical player,” Sue Price said. “He’s right in the middle of the game.”

Finally, it all came together last week at Central. Straker, who lives near the high school, stopped by to watch Price play and was treated to the 21-point game.

“There’s this angst, because I’d only seen Michael in this other context (of rehab),” Straker said. “Now, he’s out there on the court and banging heads. At one point early in the game, he went down on the floor on his hip, going for the ball, and then he got up and ran off.

“To see him pumping in points, I was so proud of him and what he’s accomplished.”

Price, 18, still experiences some pain in his hips. It might hold him back from pursuing another dream, playing college basketball, but he doesn’t regret anything that’s happened.

“It was all worth it,” Price said. “I wouldn’t have been able to play if it wasn’t for the surgeries. I enjoy it all now; the hard practices, the sprinting. I’m just glad to be out there.”

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