“In those days, everybody was in a cast except my patients,” he told The Denver Post in 2016. “My patients would move their ankle right away, their knee right away. I got a head start on everybody, because I recognized that just because you moved something didn’t mean it wouldn’t heal. In fact, it would heal better. The movement made the tissues get stronger.”
He developed new procedures, like microfracturing, a treatment for injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament in which small cracks are made in the underlying bone, facilitating cartilage growth and a more rapid recovery.
“We would say, ‘There’s only one place to go, and that’s Dr. Steadman,’” Eva Twardokens, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and a frequent patient of Dr. Steadman’s, said in a phone interview. “‘He’s the one who will get you back onto the skis.’”
John Richard Steadman was born on June 4, 1937, in Sherman, Texas, about 60 miles north of Dallas. His father, Beverly Steadman, was a colonel in the Air Force, and his mother, Mary (Ellis) Steadman, was a homemaker.
His father’s career required the Steadmans to move frequently — for a time they lived in Berlin — before settling outside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. Richard excelled in football, baseball and golf. He also excelled in school, and he received a scholarship offer from Harvard in his senior year.
But a phone call from the famed football coach Bear Bryant, inviting him to play at Texas A&M, changed his mind. He was a reserve offensive tackle for the Aggies for two years and had hopes of starting in his junior year. But his grades were sagging, and he was determined to go to medical school. He finally worked up the courage to write the imposing Coach Bryant a letter, telling him why he was quitting.
“He wrote back and he said that he respected my decision,” Dr. Steadman told Sports Illustrated in 1983. “He said that he hoped maybe someday I would take care of him when I got to be a doctor.”