Keeping Up With Mark Schlereth | by
Bronco's Super Bowl Champion Stays Active, Willfully Keeps Osteoarthritis Pain At Bay
It’s early on a Monday morning and Mark Schlereth has been at it for nearly three hours.
The former Broncos guard and ESPN analyst is dissecting a Broncos’ nail-biter win over the Saints from the night before on his sports talk radio program on 104.3 The Fan with partner Mike Evans. They pick apart Denver’s offensive line and the toughness of the young quarterback with almost the same fervor as, say, the recent high-drama presidential election, and pretty soon they have you convinced it’s just as important.
“I’ve got the gift of gab,” Schlereth says with a shrug after his show in the Greenwood Village studios.
He is a busy man. He’s been up since 4:30 for his 6 a.m. “Schlereth and Evans” radio show and his day is far from over. It’s a Monday in mid-November, which means he’ll go home and spend hours studying film from the weekend’s NFL games. He’ll also appear that night on a pre-Monday night football segment for local CBS-4. The rest of the week looks just as hectic and includes a flight to Connecticut to the ESPN studios for his gig as a national NFL analyst.
Schlereth makes it all look easy — his banter with colleagues (yes, they really do call him by his nickname Stink) and his ability to talk all football all the time. But grinding it out seems to come naturally for the former offensive guard.
During a 12-year pro career, the Anchorage, Alaska native racked up three Super Bowl rings, one for the Washington Redskins and two for the Broncos — as well as 29 surgeries for countless injuries, which eventually ended his career in the Mile High City.
His well-publicized injuries and surgeries, including 20 on his knees alone, mean the 50-year-old lives with osteoarthritis pain every day. But he says he’s never considered letting it get the best of him.
In the fall, Schlereth was a special guest speaker for the National Arthritis Foundation’s annual convention in Denver, and he told the crowd that it takes a positive attitude and hard work to battle the joint disease. Those may sound like locker-room platitudes, but Schlereth means it. Those are the same pep talks he’s heard all his life from coaches and his hero father, who still works as a State Farm Agent in Anchorage at age 77.
Schlereth says his dad has always been a “perpetual motion machine.” Considering all of Schlereth’s sportscasting and side businesses — including his Stinkin’ Good Green Chile and Clubhousegear.com, a T-shirt company he started with his son Daniel, who himself is a professional free agent baseball pitcher — it’s pretty clear Schlereth takes after his dad.
“The life lessons I learned from playing team sports far outweighs the negative,” he said.
I have dealt with pain since I was 18. I wouldn’t know what a day without pain or sleeping through the night would look like. For me it’s just become part of my life and the one thing I won’t allow myself to do is sit around and feel sorry for myself or let my pain dictate my activity. There are certainly some things that I don’t do well, but I will continue to push forward and find ways around those things. I don’t know who said it but I believe it and I try to live it every day: “The wise man counts his blessings, while the fool counts his problems.” I am blessed.
With your Denver radio show on 104.3 The Fan and your analyst job with ESPN, you are in constant motion. Does this ever get old, talking football? Traveling? What makes you so passionate about this business?
As a parent you sometimes wonder if the things you tell your kids ever resonates with them. My father told me when I was a little boy to find something you love to do, something you’re passionate about, and you’ll never have to get up and go to work in the morning. I get up and go to work because I love it. I am 50 years old and never felt like I’ve worked a day in my life. Even when I was a kid in Alaska and working physical labor, building barns, mending fences, landscaping, cutting down trees, you name it, I did it. But in the physical labor my dad always convinced me that it was going to help me in my athletic career and I have to say he was 100 percent correct.
You’ve been known to say your body has been beat to a pulp during your career but that you absolutely have no regrets. What are the life lessons you learned from the game, coaches and players that made it all worth it?
So many life lessons. The value of hard work, picking yourself back up when you get knocked down, the importance of persistence. There’s a saying that goes like this: “Ninety-seven percent of the people who quit too soon are employed by the three percent who never gave up.” I never gave up. I think the biggest lesson is the lesson of leadership. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in life, you can be a leader as long as you’re willing to kneel down and serve.
You’ve lived in Colorado since 1995 and you and your wife Lisa raised a family here. What do you love most about this state?
What’s not to love about Colorado? The weather is amazing, you get to experience four full seasons and the people of Denver absolutely have embraced us as one of their own. They have supported me and everything I’ve done, from my playing career to my broadcasting career to my green chile business. The people of Colorado have stepped up.
What’s it been like to see your son Daniel go into professional baseball?
Watching your kids have success is the best feeling in the world, far better than your own success as a parent. As good as that feels, watching them struggle is also gut wrenching. Regardless of what they do for a living in life, I have always preached one thing to them: “It’s far more important to focus on who you are than it is to focus on what you do.” Ultimately I don’t care what they do for a living, I just want them to be good solid citizens who have loving kind hearts.
“Osteoarthritis is the most common kind of arthritis,” says Dr. Lisa Corbin, who specializes in integrative medicine at UCHealth. “Its causes can be many. It can be age-related, genetic and caused by wear and tear.”
OA occurs when the cartilage and cushion between joints wears down over time, leading to stiffness, inflammation, loss of flexibility and pain. Although OA can affect any joint in the body, Dr. Scott Resig, an orthopedic surgeon who works at Sky Ridge Medical Center, says the knees, hands, hips, and spine are most commonly affected.
“It is affecting patients at younger ages because we are a more active society,” Resig says. “People are wearing out their joints faster.”
Those who have repeated injuries, excessive wear and tear, a family history of OA, or are overweight have a higher likelihood of developing OA.
“Some aches and pains are normal with aging and activity, but if the pain and swelling last two weeks or more, see your primary care doctor or orthopedic surgeon to screen for osteoarthritis,” Resig says.
Many obese people start to notice symptoms in their 30s. But if there are no risk factors, people usually start to develop symptoms in their 50s, 60s and up, Corbin says.
Non-surgical treatment is usually recommended first, while surgery is the last recourse. Your doctor will conduct a functional assessment and, depending on the severity of symptoms, may also take labs or x-rays.
Things that can make living with OA easier include losing weight, exercising, modifying diet and managing pain.
Maintain Weight – “One of the most important things people who have osteoarthritis, and even those who don’t, can do is to maintain a normal body weight,” Corbin says. “It helps reduce the stress on the joints.”
Exercise – Exercise is important because it helps strengthen those muscles that support the joints. If walking is painful, Corbin says start with pool-based exercises or bicycling. Your doctor can also have you work with a physical therapist. In 2016, the Mayo Clinic released a report concluding that yoga and tai chi can also help with pain management.
Diet – To help people manage weight and reduce inflammation, Amy Weiman, a registered dietitian with The Medical Center of Aurora, recommends arthritis sufferers eat more omega-3 rich foods such as cold water fish, nuts, seeds, and foods naturally high in fiber to boost the body’s anti-inflammatory responses. She also advocates a mainly plant-based diet, rich in antioxidants with less fat, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods. Dr. Elizabeth Sebestyen, an internal medicine doctor with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, advises her OA patients try a three week diet excluding sugar, dairy and grains to see if it makes a noticeable difference. Many report positive results.
Supplements and Natural Relief – Corbin says supplements like glucosamine chondroitin can be helpful, “Take 1500 mg per day and try it for at least six weeks to determine if it has noticeable effects.” Other supplement that may help OA sufferers are SAMe, S-adenosyl-L-methionine, (400 mg, two times a day), or fish oil supplements (2 grams, once a day). She says stay away from willow bark since it’s harsh on the stomach. Topical pain relief such as arnica or herbal plasters can also soothe aches and painful areas.
Acupuncture & Massage – The 2016 Mayo report also concluded that acupuncture and massage may help sufferers. “Acupuncture is effective in most cases,” says Sebestyen, who added acupuncture to her medical practice. Studies show it suppresses pain and can have anti-inflammatory effects, relaxes muscles and helps modality. Acupuncture can decrease reliance on medication and help postpone surgery, she says. Since insurance rarely covers treatment, ask about sliding fees or negotiate rates.
Medications – “People respond differently to pain medications and what works for some may not for others,” Resig says. Acetaminophen is an analgesic and may help with pain but NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as naproxen or ibuprofen are better for inflammation and swelling. Corbin recommends acetaminophen as a first choice because it is easier on the stomach and kidneys, especially for those over 50, who should take acid blockers if taking medications like ibuprofen to reduce risk of ulcers.
Doctors may also prescribe stronger meds or recommend injections. Steroid injections may provide quicker relief and can last weeks to months. For the knee joint, hyaluronic acid injections can last six months or longer, but are less helpful when there is bone-on-bone arthritis. Resig says hyaluronic acid may take a few weeks to start working but the more advanced the arthritis, the less effective the injections will be.
“If the pain is keeping you from living and affecting your quality of life, it may be time for a joint replacement,” Resig says.
Historically, doctors would discourage a patient from considering replacement until age 65. But, with advances in technology, people are functioning better and for longer after joint replacement. Resig says more people in their 50s are opting for surgery because there are too many drawbacks to waiting: inactivity can lead to weight gain, other health problems, depression, and the possibility of permanent deformities developing in joints that could limit full range of motion.
“A simple x-ray can give answers and is a good starting point for patients,” he says.
- 1 in 2 adults develops symptoms of knee OA during their lives.
- 1 in 4 adults develops symptoms of hip OA by age 85.
- 1 in 12 people 60 years or older have hand OA.
Source: Arthritis Foundation
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