Karate dad’s arthritis can’t keep him down

July 29, 2005
Dan Atkinson doesn’t need to win medals to prove himself in Saturday’s martial arts events in the State Games of America. Competing is a victory in itself.
He had two total hip replacement operations due to debilitating arthritis. Metal rods were placed in his back to correct scoliosis. The 40-year-old computer engineer still enjoys sparring, kicking and weapon-fighting. Atkinson joins about 9,000 athletes from 46 states competing in 24 sports in Colorado Springs, Monument, Pueblo and Denver this weekend. Participants from outside Colorado had to win medals in their home states to qualify for the games. All Colorado residents were eligible to enter. Atkinson decided to take the plunge — only five months after his last hip operation. It’s a big deal for the karate dad who started on the sideline as a parent helper at his sons’ Young Champions martial arts classes seven years ago. “I’ve never competed before,” said Atkinson, who has trained four years in Tong Soo Do, a form of Korean karate. “My goal is to push myself.” His sons, Michael, 12, and James, 14, will also compete at the State Games. Martial arts events are today and Saturday at the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Center Gym. The father and sons will compete in style, thanks to sponsors who outfitted the family with new uniforms, sparring gear and prescription sports glasses for Atkinson. Atkinson has battled progressive arthritis since his late 20s. He never dreamed he’d be wielding a bo staff or pivoting to punch. Ten or 15 years ago, before new bone replacement material was developed, it wouldn’t have been possible, said his Front Range Orthopaedics surgeon, Dr. Rick Meinig. “Karate is good rehab,” Meinig said. “It is fun as a surgeon to see how far patients can go. He has surpassed things most peo- ple thought were not possible.” Atkinson said karate and surgery are a good therapeutic mix. Before the surgeries, “I was really down and out,” he said. “I couldn’t even bend over. It was arduous to pick up change. My flexibility is a lot better.” He hopes to earn his black belt in six months. He practices on his lunch hour at Computer Generated Solutions. He spars with his older sons, also working toward black belts, and helps his two younger children, Christine, 8, and Jacob, 5, in their karate classes. “I call him the bionic man,” said teacher Craig Bryan, who moved to Cave Creek, Ariz., but has continued training Atkinson through videotape and phone instruction. “His flexibility wasn’t that great, but he has the best mental attitude.” Mental discipline is key to the sport, Bryan said. “We have people in wheelchairs. It’s in your head what you want to do. You can do anything you put your mind to.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0253 or abrown@gazette.com
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