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My knee hurt and I limped. But everything I did to make it that way was worth it.

I’ve probably run 120 races since I moved to Charlotte in 1981, everything from a mile to a marathon. I never won, placed or showed. But running is freedom.
I’ve probably run 120 races since I moved to Charlotte in 1981, everything from a mile to a marathon. I never won, placed or showed. But running is freedom. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The doctor asked me what I did to my knee.

“I woke up.”

That’s all it takes for people of a certain age, such as an old one. I woke up and my left knee hurt and it wouldn’t straighten. When I put weight on it, I limped. It was as if every mile I’d ever run and every game I’d ever played was lurking, and finally got me.

The kneecap was dislodged when I was in our college during our annual tackle football game in the snow. If you lived in snow country, you played those games. You might have played one in the snow last week in Charlotte.

In our games, nobody wore pads or a helmet. You just played. I was chasing down a guy after an interception that, OK, I threw, and another guy hit me from behind. Was he big? Of course he was big. My knee hurt but we were young and pain always went away and injuries always healed.

When we got the ball back, I let the rush come and threw a short pass, this time to a teammate. I went down without being hit, and ended up in the hospital with my left knee in the air and a weight attached to it. They didn’t have arthroscopic surgery then. They might not have had surgery. They put on a cast that started above my ankle and extended above the knee.

I ran track in high school for a year, stupidly quitting because none of my friends were on the team. I’ve probably run 120 races since I moved to Charlotte in 1981, everything from a mile to a marathon. I never won, placed or showed. But running is freedom. Put one foot in front of the other and go.

I encountered a man this weekend I hadn’t seen for years. He saw me limp and asked what was wrong. I told him that pieces of bone float around in the knee, and if I take a step and the bone is in the wrong place I want to jump. But I can’t. I probably added that my kneecap was screwed up and there might be ligament damage.

He was sympathetic. Then he added that both his knees had been replaced and he was getting over an Achilles injury. So I stopped whining.

I don’t claim my knee is a big deal. It’s just that I operate under the supposition that I had cancer and had a concussion so all my medical dues have been paid. When I get a cold I want to yell, “Haven’t you been informed?”

I suspect that one way to avoid knee damage is to live a life devoid of running on streets and dirt, football and baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts.

But I never would have known what it's like to be free.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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