GRAND RAPIDS -- Nearly every time his wife, Tanya, tightened the mechanism attached to his leg, Jeff Broking felt excruciating pain.
"It was the worst experience of my life," said Broking, 32, of Grand Rapids, who this spring -- with help from his wife -- had to stretch the bone in his right leg to allow it to regrow to a longer length. "When she was doing it, it was like you could feel the leg stretching. I hated to do it, but I knew it had to be done."
Broking won the Hibbing Raceway Late Model season points championship last year. It was his first track title.
But he won't be on the starting grid Saturday night to defend his crown. Instead, he's looking forward to skating with his 6-year-old son, Jax, and walking without pain.
In February, Broking underwent surgery at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury, Minn., to lengthen the leg -- 14 years after he shattered it in a logging accident.
The leg was so badly damaged that it healed about 3 inches shorter than his left leg.
"I broke it so bad, that's just how it lined up," said Broking, a former Grand Rapids hockey player. "That's where it grew back to."
For years, Broking wore a lift on the bottom of his right shoe to help compensate. The lift allowed him to live a normal life, work as a shift manager at U.S. Steel's Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron and drive a high-powered race car.
But he's had good reason to undergo surgery and the extreme pain that followed.
Like his father, a wing and defenseman who had hopes of playing hockey at a higher level, one of his two sons is now involved in the sport.
"Jax said he wouldn't go [onto a rink] unless I can go out there and skate with him," Broking said. "He said he ain't playing hockey unless we did this. And to be dead honest, my hip and back were starting to hurt pretty bad. You could just feel things getting worse and I thought since I'm still young, I should get it done."
In surgery, Dr. Mark Dahl, of St. Croix Orthopedics in Stillwater, Minn., fractured Broking's leg, inserted a titanium rod into the marrow of the tibia and locked one end of the rod in place with a screw. A titanium plate was inserted into Broking's ankle and a fixator, a halo-like device with six rods and wires that run into the tibia, was attached to Broking's leg.
For six weeks after surgery, Tanya Broking's daily job was to tighten the rods. As she tightened them, the wires spread Broking's bone, lengthening the leg.
"The first time that I turned the rods, I had to use a wrench," Tanya said. "It didn't bother me to do it, but I knew it was hurting him."
Limb lengthening has been performed since about 1903, Dahl said. However, each generation of doctors has developed new techniques, he said. Dahl learned some of his techniques from doctors in Russia and Italy.
"It's a very successful procedure," said Dahl, "but there's only a handful [of doctors] who do it in the U.S. Jeff's was very unusual in that he had some congenital problems in addition to the industrial accident."
After three weeks of turning the rods, the pain was so bad that the couple decided to return to the doctor. It was discovered that Broking's tibia and fibula had fused together as of a result of the logging accident. Broking had additional surgery to separate the bones.
After returning home, Tanya Broking resumed turning the rods, a quarter-turn at a time.
Broking took prescribed OxyContin pain medication, but his eyes still often welled with tears.
"It was a constant pain," Broking said. "Ninety percent of the time whenever she turned the rods, I was in a lot of pain. I wouldn't wish it on anybody."
Broking went back to the doctor in late April.
His leg was 2¾ inches longer.
"Two and three-quarter inches to 3 inches was my goal," Broking said. "So I'm pretty happy with what we got."
Dahl inserted a screw through the bone and into the other end of the titanium rod to keep the bone in place.
One of the most popular drivers on the Northland dirt track circuit, Broking returns to the doctor's office next week for a checkup. If all is well, he hopes to be competing in early June in his No. 5, 358-cubic inch Larry Shaw chassis Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
His crew, which includes his father, Joe, and friend Paul Niska of Mountain Iron, also has been building a Pure Stock for Broking's 14-year-old son, Jeffery.
"If I get the OK, I plan to be racing the next night," Broking said. "Not being able to get out there for the opener takes the pressure off. We're just going to go out there this year and race and try to win. If we can get moving by June 1, my goal would be to win seven races. If we can't, I'm not going to rush it."
Which, for Jax, would be just fine.
Hockey season is never too far away.
* Information on limb lengthening at limblength.com
LEE BLOOMQUIST can be reached weekdays at (800) 368-2506, 744-2354 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.