One athlete, two hip surgeries, three Ironmans

Trevor, who had hip impingement in both hips in an Ironman competition.
Less than a year after his second hip surgery, Trevor crossed the finish line of his first Ironman competition.

Trevor Spence grew up playing just about every sport he could. When he was 3, he laced up his first pair of hockey skates. When he was 10, he medaled in the Junior Olympics 1500-meter Track and Field event. Throughout middle and high school, he travelled to tournaments for hockey, lacrosse, and soccer.

“I did it all because I loved doing it all,” he says. “In hindsight, I might have pushed myself a little too hard.”

Hip impingement occurs when the bones in the hip joint rub together, damaging the cartilage that lines and protects the hip socket.

A sharp pain in his right hip during his first year on the varsity men’s hockey team at Tufts University was the first sign that something more than an ordinary muscle ache was going on. As Trevor would soon find out, he had hip impingement, one of the most common hip injuries in hockey.

When playing through hip pain didn’t work

Trevor continued to play hockey, scoring goals and dishing out assists, all while working with the school’s athletic training staff to rehabilitate his hip. But the pain persisted, and he started talking to sports medicine specialists. As luck would have it, he had a personal connection to Dr. Mininder Kocher, chief of the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“I had gone to high school with Dr. Kocher’s kids.” With his athletic future on the line, it was reassuring to talk to someone he trusted. “I couldn’t have been in better hands.”

Diagnostic images revealed damage in both of Trevor’s hips even though he only had pain on one side. “The images looked exactly the same,” he remembers. “I had significant impingement and labral tears in both of my hips.”

Trevor playing hockey before hip impingement would force him to take a year off.
Trevor started playing hockey young and continued playing into early adulthood.

Trevor and Dr. Kocher discussed his options. Physical therapy had not alleviated his pain. A cortisone shot would provide temporary relief, but the underlying problem would remain.

Dr. Kocher suggested hip arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure performed through small incisions. The two operations would take place six months apart and he’d miss a year of hockey. But addressing the issue early would reduce Trevor’s chance of early arthritis and chronic pain. “Looking at the long term, I knew I wanted to be an active person for the rest of my life.”

In May 2020, Dr. Kocher operated on Trevor’s right hip, repairing the damaged labrum and shaving away damaging bone growths. Because the operation was arthroscopic, Trevor’s recovery was “surprisingly easy.” Within a week, he was able to get around on crutches and began to put weight on his leg a week after that. Within two months, he could swim and bike.

“After four or five months, I felt like I was fully back.” That November, when Trevor’s right hip was stable enough to support his weight with crutches, Dr. Kocher performed the same procedure on his left hip.

Swimming, biking, running … Ironman?

As he worked through his second recovery, Trevor realized he could graduate a semester early — in the middle of his senior hockey season. As much as he loved the sport, he decided to hang up his skates and pursue a physical feat he’d set his sights on years ago.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’d dreamed of doing an Ironman triathlon.”

In October 2021, less than a year after his second surgery, Trevor swam 2.4 miles, biked 112, and ran 26.2 to cross the finish line of his first Ironman competition. He graduated from Tufts that December and went on to complete his second Ironman in April 2021 with a time that qualified him for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Trevor, who had hip impingement, biking in an Ironman competition.
Biking and swimming were part of Trevor’s rehabilitation after hip surgery. Soon they became part of his training plan.

In October 2022, in a race against the top 60 men between 18 and 24 in the world, Trevor was the third American to cross the finish line — which he did in under 10 hours.  

“Doing three Ironmans in one year may not be a big deal for professional Ironman athletes,” he says. “But for someone who’d just had hip surgery, I’m very proud of that.”

These days, Trevor’s full-time job gives him less time to train. But he has his eye on another Ironman in the fall and will run in the 2024 Boston Marathon. In typical fashion, he’s aiming to finish in under three hours.

Looking back on his many athletic accomplishments, Trevor says that knowing when it was time to move on from one sport to another was an important part of his success. He also credits his excellent medical care. “Dr. Kocher and his entire team were truly amazing for both of my hip surgeries: before, during, and following up with PT and the post-surgical plan. I couldn’t be more thankful that I got my work done at Boston Children’s.”

Learn more about the Sports Medicine Division or book an appointment.

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