Stan James was the go-to expert on the sport’s elite athletes
Stan James would have been a successful orthopedic surgeon in many places. In Eugene, he became a star – humble, almost shy, but a star nonetheless.
From the 1970s to the early 1990s, James was the nationally in-demand physician for elite athletes with knee and leg injuries and an internationally renowned expert whose contributions endure.
James, who died in January aged 90, is not named at the Slocum Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine on Coburg Road, but he was one of the cornerstones.
He moved to Eugene from Iowa in 1967 as a hand specialist to join the practice of Dr. Donald Slocum, an innovative pioneer in sports medicine, and became one of the most respected hand surgeons in the world. North West.
But James was also a runner, and Eugene was the epicenter of the sport then. Long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine filled the stands at Hayward Field. His trainer, Bill Bowerman, had sparked the jogging boom and was tinkering with better shoes for his athletes. One of those runners, Phil Knight, would sell those shoes and start Nike.
Along with colleague Robert Larson, James became an expert on the knee and the biomechanics of running gait, and he consulted with Bowerman and Knight on creating shoes that would prevent injury.
When Pre, pushing the limits of mileage, developed foot and ankle problems, James analyzed his gait and suggested a heel lift and wider-heeled shoes, modifications later incorporated into the Nike Waffle Trainer.
His work with Bowerman and Knight and runners at the University of Oregon and Athletics West put James on the map. He stayed there because of who he was – a keen diagnostician who could study a patient’s gait and see the source of problems, a gifted technical surgeon with what a colleague described as “silky hands”, best of all time.
James was the orthopedic surgeon in charge of the OU track and field teams and three Olympic trials. He has authored or co-authored over 50 articles on running injuries, knee biomechanics, and surgeries. He has lectured in six countries and was once billed as “The Oracle”.
At times, James seemed not to realize how talented he was. But he inspired confidence and exuded calm, worthy of a former US Army helicopter pilot. He respected athletes and was himself an accomplished athlete in running and Nordic skiing.
Locally, James became the go-to surgeon for runner Mary Slaney, who met him shortly after moving to Eugene in 1979. Ultimately, there were Achilles and other leg surgeries. legs, and James was telling Slaney that his medical records needed a wheelbarrow. And Slaney would say, of this understated surgeon who became such a good friend, that every record she set from then on, and there were many, and every year she was able to walk again on a track, and those were valuable, were because of Stan James.
Her knee surgery on Joan Benoit won her the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984. Tennis star Pete Sampras, having signed with Nike, was airlifted from Beaverton so James could consult on shoes for high arches in Sampras.
In 1985, during his second year in the NBA, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan came to see Eugene for an opinion after fracturing a bone in his left foot. More adept at following Nordic skiing, James asked a colleague, “Who is Michael Jordan? (James recommended surgery, Jordan declined.)
To a generation of local orthopedic surgeons, James was a lovable mentor and friend. He never stopped learning. When the jogging boom turned into fitness movement, he became an expert. When the arthroscopic surgery came along, he had that under control. When older patients needed knee replacements, he became the best.
In 1992, James was forced to give up surgery due to severe arthritis. He retired, then returned to practice part-time, seeing non-surgical patients and writing independent medical reviews in workers’ compensation cases which, of course, became models for the trade.
When Slocum died in 1983, James praised his genius, saying that if you had put him in the middle of the Sahara Desert, Slocum would have become the world’s greatest sand expert. The same could be said of Stan James, who came to Eugene, that runner’s paradise from near and far, and learned better than anyone how they ran and then ran them for all the years.
Ron Bellamy is a former sports columnist and sports editor for The Register-Guard.