Andover resident Vinnie Christiano, 54, had a hip replaced in 2001 and was told he would never be able to practice his karate at the level he is currently at.

Vinny Christiano can break four boards with his big toe. When he kicks, he can send his leg higher than his head.

Sure, he is a seventh-level black belt in karate — but he has a ceramic hip.

The 55-year-old Andover resident underwent ceramic hip replacement surgery on his left side six years ago after suffering from a debilitating osteoarthritis.

“You would never know,” said Bob Spoon, a sensei at Tewksbury dojo Authentic Martial Arts. “He’s as hard as a rock.”

It’s something Christiano hasn’t told many people. But doctors predicted he would never experience his full-range of movement again. Hip replacement patients never do.

Christiano must not have been listening.

“Listen to your surgeon, but your surgeon isn’t God,” Christiano said after a Saturday workout. “The limit is set by your own mind. It might hurt, but you can achieve anything you want. That’s the motto.”

Within months, the pharmacist was doing things his doctor said he would never do, such as touching his knee with his nose, squatting within inches of the floor.

He stretches in awkward positions and gets kicked in the left leg — what he calls the bionic leg — over and over again during his training.

“He’s an inspiration,” Spoon said. “He has such an enthusiasm and dedication. No one on the floor matches it.”

At New England Baptist Hospital, he is his surgeon’s experiment, visiting him every year for an examination.

“He said, ‘You’ll never be able to do this,’ or, ‘You’ll never do that,” Christiano said. “When he sees me now, he just shakes his head.”

Christiano’s leg started to hurt around his 40th birthday, and he soon found out it wasn’t his leg at all — he had osteoarthritis of the hip.

“I asked if there was acupuncture or other healing, and the doctor said my hip cartilage would wear away to the point where I can’t stand the pain,” he said.

Christiano started dragging his leg, hardly able to take steps up stairs.

But it wasn’t the pain that forced him onto the operating table. It was the loss of range of movement.

“I can stand pain,” he said. “I couldn’t be dragging my leg forever.”

The karate teacher looks at pain as a mental challenge, something he has learned through his Uechi-Ryu karate training.

He would not take pain killers during his hip surgery.

“I had surgeons coming in and pointing at me,” Christiano said. “If you’re mentally strong, you can overcome a lot of physical stuff. The surgeon thought I was absolutely out of my mind. But I worked through it.”

He went without medication during his recovery too.

Now Christiano talks to fellow athletes about his experience. He also stays busy teaching karate at Brandeis University, at Authentic Martial Arts and at The Hut in Newton, along with passing on his karate teachings to his 17-year-old son.

He’s been a black belt for 37 years, once nationally ranked with several tournament championships.

Christiano said he’d encourage anyone in pain, athlete or not, to get the replacement surgery.

“I always thought natural was the best to have,” he said. “Taking a risk can be healthy.”

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you