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A Presidential Pain in the Knee

An avid runner, Bush has been plagued lately by aching joints and a torn calf muscle.

June 20, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

FRIDLEY, Minn. — Hobbled by aching knees and an inflamed right calf, America's First Runner has been all but sidelined from his favorite exercise and says his woes serve up a good lesson to all sports-minded baby boomers.

"Listen to your body. I tried to run through the pain and it didn't work," President Bush said in remarks relayed to the Los Angeles Times on Thursday by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

The president first complained to a reporter about his knees during a private party in Washington in late April, blaming it on age. Bush is 56.

At The Times' request, Bush on Thursday supplied new details of his injuries, during a day trip here to deliver a speech on the economy.

Earlier Thursday, the president gave a public tipoff to what he called "a runner's injury" on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland as he walked toward Air Force One, before traveling to Minnesota.

Playfully, he abruptly clutched his left knee with both hands, then broke into a wide grin, leaving most observers puzzled.

About 2 1/2 months ago, Bush, an avid runner for more than 15 years, noticed an aching right calf muscle after a hard run.

It turned out to be a minor muscle tear, Fleischer said, and Bush reined in his running about that time.

Bush consulted his physician, Air Force Col. Richard J. Tubb, about the injury, Fleischer said.

Amid the tensions of the Iraq war, Bush had pushed himself -- on a treadmill in the White House and occasionally on the running track of the South Lawn -- to perhaps the best times of his life, clocking a three-mile run at an average of 6 minutes, 45 seconds a mile -- a strong pace for a man his age.

A fierce competitor, Bush almost always times himself -- "with an eye on 'Can I beat it?' " Fleischer said.

Partial tears can be treated with either rest or heel lifts, which are cushioned pads inserted into shoes to relax the calf muscles, said Dr. Jacob E. Tauber, a Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon. "A more significant tear could actually require casting.... No surgery is necessary if it is a partial muscular tear."

Despite his injuries, the president is hardly idled.

He has increased other forms of exercise, primarily the use of an elliptical trainer that builds upper-body strength, along with weightlifing and swimming -- less jarring activities. He continues to exercise six days a week.

Bush's experience has taught him to "be sensitive to the aging process" -- a lesson he said he would like to share with everyone, but particularly baby boomers, Fleischer said.

Tauber echoed that advice. "If you don't warm up and stretch, you are more predisposed to muscle tears," the surgeon said. Tears "are more typical as we age, because we lose some elasticity, and become less flexible. It's a recipe for problems if you combine aging, not stretching and increasing activities -- which is exactly what happened to the president.

"It's imperative to stretch.... I find myself as guilty as anybody, but it doesn't make it right," Tauber said.

"This is a good lesson for people in their 50s who want to remain athletic," Bush said. "I believe I'll be running again."

Indeed, the president recently tested his running, but at "a more realistic pace."

In his last time out, a week ago, Bush clocked in at 9 minutes a mile.

Times staff writer Justin Gest in Washington contributed to this report.

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