KneeHab: World record-holding angler Lance Glaser of Breckenridge gets new knees
May 2, 2017
Walk into Lance Glaser's home on the north end of downtown Breckenridge and be ready for an unorthodox tour of the world: tapestries from Egypt in the entryway, stuffed bass and Oriental knives on a billiards table in the game room, the tried-and-true wooden beams of an 1880s-era cabin in the living room, world record plaques for fish of all sizes and species in a combo office and fly-tying room — it's the only truly messy place in the home — carved giraffes, handmade hippos and an enormous vintage fly-fishing poster in a sitting room overlooking French Street and, past that, Breckenridge Ski Resort.
No matter where you turn, the home Glaser shares with his wife, Pat, is an eclectic tour of everywhere the 68-year-old has been during more than three decades as a professional fishing guide. He grew up splitting time between Los Angeles and Hawaii, where he spent countless hours trying to lure freshwater and saltwater fish: tilapia, tuna, mackerel, marlins and everything in between.
"To be sponsored and guide for a living, it was trippy, but I wasn't married," Glaser told me on a cold, snowy morning in late-April, referring to his early guiding gigs in Hawaii and Florida. "For a short time I was even the western Palm State alligator trapper. You know — nuisance alligators."
Glaser's home is also a reflection of a life well lived (sadly, no stuffed alligators). In his early 20s, Glaser got thrown from an Army helicopter during the Vietnam War and was partially paralyzed for more than two years. He was confined to a bed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland the entire time, until one day his feeling and movement returned — and soon enough he was back on the street.
"I don't remember a lot," Glaser told me of his time at Walter Reed, back when his curly, graying hair could be teased out into a pitch-black afro. "I had two or three years of memory knocked out of my mind, and some of it has come back. It's hard to explain that. You just don't remember those things… My family didn't know I was in the war. They must've thought I was out smuggling drugs or something across the world."
Glaser's injury slowly took its toll over the following decades, but soon after getting back on his feet he wasted no time rediscovering an old love: fishing. He won one of the first bass-fishing tournaments in the mid-'70s — Honolulu threw a banquet for him when he returned, complete with leis and hula — and even hosted a TV fishing program, dubbed "Let's Go Fishing" and broadcast on…
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"KHON, Channel Two, Honolulu, Hawaii!" Glaser began to recite in the booming voice of a TV announcer. "Brought to you by Ollie Beer."
Glaser laughed, and then delved into another set of stories, explaining how he went from living and guiding on a Florida houseboat for 12 years to volunteering with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center after learning to ski in his 30s. Today, BOEC and fly-fishing are his two major passions, but both will be put on temporary hold when he goes under the knife for dual knee replacements this summer. After 30 years on skis and 20 years teaching with BOEC — not to mention the residual effects of paralysis after Vietnam — he simply can't wait any longer.
Before Glaser dove headfirst into a busy summer — he flies to Europe with Pat in May, then heads to Alaska for a fishing trip in June before his knee replacement in July — the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with him to talk about new knees and angling through the decades.
Summit Daily News: Talk about your early years as a fisherman: When and how did you get started?
Lance Glaser: I caught a perch at 4 years old and that was the beginning. Boy, I caught a mackerel at 10 years old — that was just enormous. When you're that age, it felt like it was 1,000 pounds. On my 18th birthday, at 7 o'clock in the morning, I took my Coast Guard exam, and then in the afternoon I took my pilot's exam. I started doing that right away, and then I got drafted almost right after that (laughs).
But before then I was working on fishing boats: long-range boats, charter boats. I got to be the wireman when I was young: you'll have two deckhands on a charter, and the wire guy, it's your job to grab a fish that could be up to 1,000 pounds on a 600-pound test. A wireman is kind of a crazy guy.
SDN: What kind of fishing did you do when you weren't on a charter? Did you get the chance to fish for fun?
LG: Tuna, mackerel — anything that bit (laughs). But I actually became a freshwater fisherman in Hawaii. After the war, I left the hospital and hopped on a sailboat with two kiwis and said, "Bye." I got back to Hawaii and no one would hire me because I had a nice, nasty scar in my back. A friend asked me to work with him, be his (construction) partner, and we used to go from Honolulu to the North Shore fixing up these homes the bank was renting out.
In the middle of Honolulu is where all the pineapple and sugar cane grows, and there are freshwater ponds out there. My buddy and I, after fixing homes all day, would go down to that reservoir to drink beers and smoke a few, and we'd see people fishing. He said we should go down fishing before work — catch some tilapia and the rest — and I told him, "You'll never see me at work again."
SDN: How did you go from fishing after work to fishing for a living again?
LG: There was a club, the Hawaii Freshwater Fishing Association, and I joined up with them. It was a lot of former military guys and this was the start of pro bass fishing on the mainland. The national associations were just getting started, and they were doing the first couple of championships. We, with the Hawaii club, were holding tournaments once a month and they asked if I could fly to Miami for this old tournament. That's where I caught my first 10-pound bass — and I won the stupid thing.
It wasn't big money then, but they had this banquet after, and they called me out, saying, "Today we have the Hawaii state champion!" Man, that was wild. And believe me — I fished tournaments after that and didn't win. It wasn't that easy.
SDN: Where did fishing take you from there?
LG: I bought a brand-new 19070 Land Cruiser — my Kona Cadillac, I called it. I shipped that to the mainland and drove down to Florida, and then I set up on Lake Okeechobee down in south Florida. It's huge, it's monstrous, and that was the headwaters of the Everglades until a hurricane came over that area — that massive body of water — and that's why they built a dyke around it.
That lake has had lots of controversy, but it is still a huge fishing lake. I was just there recently for old time's sake. I was guiding there 12 years — built a houseboat and lived on it, me and my raccoons and alligators. To be sponsored and guide for a living, it was trippy, but I wasn't married. For a short time I was even the western Palm State alligator trapper. You know — nuisance alligators.
SDN: So you didn't grow up skiing?
LG: Hell no. I grew up in Hawaii and southern California. I was all about fishing. But when I first came here, I fell in love. Why do you think I'm replacing my knees? Over the past 20 years I've had 120-plus days per season, and this past year I only had 20. Skiing and fishing are my life. I got tired of bass fishing.
SDN: When did you first notice that skiing was taking a toll on your knees?
LG: I got into an accident when I was with BOEC. I was with a military vet in a monoski and he ran me over the last day. I got tangled up, but my knee didn't hurt bad. The next day we were up in one of the chutes off Peak 8, hop-turning coming down, and I heard this big "Pow!" My friend was down below me and he said, "I think you blew your knee." So I sideslipped down the chute, went to the medical center, and the guy grabs my other knee, says, "That's not too bad" (laughs).
They told me I tore my meniscus, and after I'd had that surgery they said, "I thought you'd never torn up your knee." They were just surprised at how beat up they were inside there. When I got hurt in the war, I was paralyzed for a while and that myst have taken a toll on my knees. They must have been damaged then.
SDN: And then the next knee happened.
LG: Yes. We went down to the University of Colorado-Denver and they did an MRI. This doctor, the head of the program — Michelle Wolcott, real nice girl, and the head of this serious program — she told me I tore the tendon off the end of the tibia. It was a very rare injury and they reattached it, and I was immobile, non-weight bearing, for two months. It worked, but ever since that it has been hurting. Skiing got worse and worse, the pain would come and go — it wasn't the same.
SDN: How did your skiing injuries impact fly-fishing?
LG: When I'm in the water, I don't care (laughs). It got better, but soon enough, the distance between "better" and "not good" got shorter and shorter. They started doing injections and steroids and everything. My left was bothering me more than my right knee, and now MRIs are showing me that I have arthritis in both knees. From last year to this year, it started going down faster and faster.
My wife also hurt her knee this year and (Vail-Summit Orthopedics doctor) Peter Janes helped her. I just wasn't happy with what was going on so I went to see him, and they started sticking needles in me, sucking out fluid left and right, and then it really went downhill. The injections work for a while and then they don't.
SDN: When did you finally make the decision to get them fully replaced?
LG: About three or four weeks back, I was meeting with Dr. Janes — he's tried to help me a lot — and they finally said, "There's not much we can do." I didn't just wear my knees out because of the war, because of those old injuries; I'm the most bow-legged individual you've ever seen, and so they fitted me with unloader braces for skiing. When I first learned to ski, I couldn't turn left. I've been that way my whole life. You should see the X-rays — my legs just don't go straight.
SDN: Why both knees at once, instead of one at a time?
LG: I'm also a mountaineer climber. I love to climb 14ers and go hiking and everything else, and I've just simply worn myself out because of the shape of my legs. I have no cartilage left, and I didn't want to do one at a time. They don't do bilateral replacement often, but the doctor, Dr. Cafferky, knew that's what I wanted. It was funny: I asked him, "Will I still be bow-legged?" It was just a joke of a question, but he said, "No, you'll be about an inch taller after this." That was just amazing.
SDN: Your surgery is about two months away. What are you doing to prepare in the meantime? Like, what is the protocol?
LG: (Avalanche Physical Therapy therapist) Kyle (Volkert) is working on my knees, keeping me stretched out with good range of motion, and I'm hiking and walking as much as I can. I have good days and bad days — because of the arthritis the cold sets me off. But you can't do anything else: no injections, no steroids — none of what we were doing before. I have these unloader braces that will help me get out for fishing and hiking and everything else that's happening before the operation.
This is a good time of year to fish. The water is clear and the fish are hungry. We've been on the North Fork of the Platte recently and caught 30 fish. I've been fishing in the Park County area for years — I consider it mine.
SDN: Are you ready for the knee replacements?
LG: Everybody said, "You will know when it's time." That's what the doctors said, and it's absolutely the truth. You try everything you can, and then it's ready. I'm now bone on bone, grinding my knees everywhere, and it's time. I feel like I'm walking on cement. Believe me — if I didn't have plans for Europe and this trip to Alaska, it would be done in June. But I'm not blowing that, especially the trip for my wife. I married the world's greatest lady.
SDN: Will you keep volunteering with BOEC next year, or has it taken took much of a toll on your body?
LG: Being from the '60s, being drafted and stuck in a war, I thought this would all be over — that the world would be a better place. But it's worse than it ever was. I can't change the elections, I can't change the world, but when I go up on that hill with BOEC — with those kids — every once in a while a little miracle occurs up there, and I mean it. I've had things happen that shouldn't happen, and that person's life is changed forever. It's not really about the skiing, especially with the kids and even the adults. It more of, "Man, I did this. What else can I do?" I've gotten busted up doing this skiing, but when I die I've left the world a little better, just a touch.
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