Aurora doctor transforms treehouse into home office

Aside from being an avid biker, runner, ice climber and Harley Davidson rider, Hill also finds time for some pretty impressive woodworking projects

AURORA | When an athlete snaps a femur and gets wheeled into Dr. John C. Hill’s exam room, Hill has a knack for feeling their pain.

And it’s not just because he has studied the ins and outs of sports medicine for decades — with three patents and close to 30 years experience under his belt, the University of Colorado School of Medicine fixture certainly knows his stuff.

No, Hill knows how those athletes, often after months of training and on the verge of a competition that they’ve spent hours and miles prepping for, feel because he’s been there. A lifelong athlete with his share of sports-related injuries — 14 fractures of his own and counting — Hill has spent plenty of time as the patient in those very scenarios.

“I know how that breaks your heart and that’s one of the things they can really relate to,” he said.

20160307-Treehouse-Aurora, Colorado

John C. Hill, who practices sports medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine, and the treehouse that he built for his daughters 20 years ago that now doubles as his home office on Monday March 07, 2016 at his home in southeast Denver near Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160307-Treehouse-Aurora, Colorado

John C. Hill, who practices sports medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine, and the treehouse that he built for his daughters 20 years ago that now doubles as his home office on Monday March 07, 2016 at his home in southeast Denver near Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160307-Treehouse-Aurora, Colorado

John C. Hill, who practices sports medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine, in the treehouse that he built for his daughters 20 years ago that now doubles as his home office on Monday March 07, 2016 at his home in southeast Denver near Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160307-Treehouse-Aurora, Colorado

John C. Hill, who practices sports medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine, in the treehouse that he built for his daughters 20 years ago that now doubles as his home office on Monday March 07, 2016 at his home in southeast Denver near Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

But there’s a lot more to Hill than just medicine and sports. Aside from being an avid biker, runner, ice climber and Harley Davidson rider, Hill also finds time for some pretty impressive woodworking projects.

“It’s probably my short attention span,” he said with a laugh while seated in the 100-square-foot treehouse office at his Denver home.

A Denver native, Hill came to University of Colorado in 1994. In addition to his work at the school of medicine, he also treats patients through UCHealth and at the Winter Park ski area during the winter months.

While he spent the early portion of his career largely focused on obstetrics — and has delivered about 1,000 babies, often in particularly difficult cesarean sections — Hill later shifted his focus to sports medicine.

Along the way, Hill has kept himself busy outside the hospital and medical school setting, too. In 2010, he conquered the Leadville Trail Marathon, the Leadville Silver Rush 50-mile trail run, the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, the Leadville 10K run, and the Leadville Trail 100 run. Those feats made him  one of 17 people that year to earn the title of “Leadman.”

And it’s not all for competition. Whether he is headed to his offices at the Anschutz Medical Campus or his offices at CU’s sports medicine facilities on South Colorado Boulevard, Hill opts for a two-wheeled commute, rain, snow or shine.

Iñigo San Millán, one of the sports medicine doctors who works closely with Hill, said he is often impressed that Hill finds the time to accomplish as much as he does.

Millán, who came to Colorado from Spain almost eight years ago to work with Hill, said when an athlete needs care, Hill has proven to be an ideal fit.

“He speaks the language of the athletes,” he said.

In 2013, Hill earned three patents for an approach to identifying glycogen stores in muscle using ultrasound. He said glycogen is essentially the fuel that powers an athlete, so understanding how a particular athlete uses glycogen can be crucial to maximizing their performance.

Still, despite that success in the medical world, Hill said he has it on good authority that had he instead chosen a career as a carpenter, he could have been successful in that field, too. Both his father and grandfather were carpenters, and several years ago when his father saw some of Hill’s woodworking skills, he was impressed.

“My dad said, ‘You’re wasting your time on medicine, you would be a great carpenter,’” he said with a chuckle in his sprawling wood shop.

Hill’s woodworking projects include the massive treehouse he built almost two decades ago for his two daughters, then ages 3 and 5. Now that his children are grown, Hill uses the treehouse, which he built to look like some of the old Victorian homes in Crested Butte, as his home office.

There are plenty of similarities between medicine and woodworking, Hill said, though he insists woodworking actually requires more precision.

“You have to be more precise because if you don’t get the bones quite right, the body will remodel and line everything up better,” he said. “But when you are building furniture you have to get it all just perfect.”

Hill said he isn’t exactly sure what his next projects will be, but he hasn’t ruled out one day returning to Africa, where he got his start as a missionary doctor at the start of his career. His initial plan was to travel the world, but when his children were young it wasn’t really an option. Now that they’re grown, Hill said he might look into it again.

“Who knows what the next year will bring,” he said.

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