Drew’s Story

Marathon Man

Navy Midshipman Runs in Marathon Less than 18 Months After Hip Arthroscopy

Drew Weninger at the finish line in the Marine Corps Marathon

Crossing the finish line in the Marine Corps Marathon, Drew Weninger and his right hip were feeling fantastic.

The marathon that began near Arlington National Cemetery with Howitzers blaring struck Drew as a fitting start considering the hip injury that rocked his world after he arrived at the U.S. Naval Academy. A starting player on football and lacrosse teams in high school, the avid athlete transitioned to long-distance running as a time-efficient alternative during his first year at the Academy – and aggravated a congenital hip condition he never realized he harbored.

During his 26.2-mile run, including a solemn silent stretch honoring fallen soldiers and a final ascent “taking the hill” before the finish line, the 22-year-old Auburn, Ohio man contemplated his journey back to health following hip arthroscopy at University Hospitals. He was astounded to run a marathon at an eight-minute-mile pace.

He was even more surprised to complete the marathon without any pain following a medical rollercoaster through his first few years at the academy, where he went from first in his class of 40 during “plebe summer” to working through frequent pain to pass the physical readiness test.

“He was ebullient,” said his father, Ernst Weninger, who was waiting for him at the finish line. “This was unimaginable a year ago.”

Back Home to the Experts

Femoral acetabular impingement (FAI), or an uneven shape to the hip ball and socket that can cause labral tearing, is a condition that affects nearly one in three adult males. Drew never knew he had FAI until he began the steady pounding of long-distance running. Occasional cortisone shots and physical therapy were only temporarily tackling the pain that was originally thought to be hip flexor tendonitis.

Drew was in Singapore for a semester abroad when the pain became so intense that pulling on his pants or bending to tie his shoes became excruciating. An MRI showed a labral tear was present after his femur tore the ring of cartilage along his hip socket.

Through family members, Drew learned that he would be better off coming back home to Ohio, where UH orthopedic specialists have a wealth of experience. Michael Salata, MD, Director, Sports Medicine Institute and Associate Team Physician for the Cleveland Browns, has performed more than 2,200 hip arthroscopies and has been an innovator in the field to improve outcomes and safety with novel techniques, including performing the operation without the use of a post to provide distraction – a procedure unique to the Northeast Ohio market and performed at only a few centers nationally and internationally.

UH orthopedic surgeons can care for the entire spectrum of hip problems, from FAI and labral tears to tackling failed hip arthroscopies from outside institutions and treating hip dysplasia with a combined arthroscopic and open approach that is not available in many hospitals, Dr. Salata said.

“Drew's return to such a high level of activity is a testament to his hard work and the work of his therapy team and the surgery that he had here,” said Dr. Salata. “A return to activity is the goal we have for all of our patients.”

Even Better than Before

Drew is now in even better shape than he was before his diagnosis and surgery. He works out twice every day, running more than 35 miles a week, swimming 3,000 meters five times a week and lifting weights four time a week. He’s aiming next for a triathlon and is slated to graduate from the Naval Academy in May.

“I was adamant about having Dr. Salata do the surgery, and it was definitely the right choice,” said Drew, who went home the same day following surgery at UH Ahuja Medical Center and began months of physical therapy, including swimming, a more forgiving exercise on his joints. Within six months, Drew was jogging again. “Dr. Salata was really accessible, he was really great. He understood my goals.”

On a perfect 50-degree windless day in late October, Drew crossed the marathon finish line and gave a four-star Marine Corps general a high-five. He had finished in a remarkable 3:32:10, considerably faster than the average American marathon time of 4:40:00.

“I was really happy and I was feeling really, really good,” said Drew. “I wasn’t getting the surgery just to be able to put on my pants without pain, but to go back 100 percent to the way life was before, and to accomplish the goal I had before surgery, which was running a marathon.”

For more information or to make an appointment with Dr. Salata call 216-286-8070.