Steven Peace loved his very active lifestyle. As a surface warfare officer for the Navy, he was always busy and constantly on the move.
“I was out to sea about 75 percent of the time,” Peace, a Michigan native, told FoxNews.com. “I was always working, even whenever I was in port.”
But in 2006, everything changed. Stationed in San Diego at the time, 32-year-old Peace suffered a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed on one side of his body. In that instant, his naval career was over.
Told he may never walk again, Peace was determined to move beyond his tragic episode and get back on his feet. Now, not only is he able to walk on his own, but he is heading to the 2012 London Paralympic Games next week, with hopes of bringing home the gold in two men’s cycling events.
An ordinary night
Peace’s journey began on an average night in October of 2006, when he had invited a friend over for a simple dinner. After his friend left, he stayed up late to watch TV before going to bed.
As Peace turned off the television and got up from his couch, the unthinkable happened.
“It hit me, ‘Bam, you’re having a stroke!’” Peace said. “…I hit the floor [immediately]. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t use my right side at all. It messes with your mind. I was telling myself, ‘I need to sleep this off.’ For that I don’t know.”
Peace spent the next four hours just trying to lock the door to his room and get into bed. Living alone at the time, there was no one to come home and find him. Luckily, Peace’s shipmates noticed his absence the next day and came to his house at lunchtime. They called the police, who eventually broke down the door to get to Peace.
According to him, the next few days are still a mystery.
"It hit me, ‘Bam, you’re having a stroke!’"
“From the point that the paramedics injected me with drugs to…until about a week later, I’ve lost that week of my life,” Peace said. “…When I did wake up, I still didn’t totally understand what had happened, but I knew that I couldn’t use my right side, and I couldn’t really speak that well.”
At first, Peace thought his recovery would be instantaneous. However, Peace had suffered hemiparesis, partial paralysis of the right side of his body, and he struggled to regain the ability to walk, as well as his memory capability. As the days – and soon months – wore on, he began to realize that his stroke would have long-lasting effects.
“We were supposed to deploy with another ship in three months, and I thought that I would be going with the ship,” Peace said. “About a month or so into my recovery, the captain of the ship came into my hospital room and told me that I wasn’t going to be able to go – and I was crushed.”
From bed to bike
Determined to get moving again, Peace worked tirelessly to get back on his feet. After months of physical therapy, he eventually moved from a wheelchair to walking with a cane. But having suffered from foot drop – a condition in which a person is unable to lift the front part of their foot – Peace had a hard time walking on his own.
Then, through Veteran’s Affairs, Peace received the Bioness L300 Foot Drop System, a cuff-like device designed to use functional electrical stimulation (FES) to help improve mobility in his right foot. Lighter than a brace, the L300 is able to sense the foot’s position, the changing terrain and walking speed, enabling Peace to hop along without a walking aid.
While he had beaten the odds by regaining his ability to walk, Peace still yearned for something more.
“About six months after the accident, I wanted to go and do something, and the Navy said they could hook me up with a bike,” Peace said. “I couldn’t ride a regular bike, so they got me a recumbent – a low three wheeled bike for recreation. I rode it for about six months, and then I wanted something to go faster. So I got a bigger, better recumbent; rode that for about a year, then I topped out on that one.
“When I went to go get another recumbent, the bike manager said, ‘This is all we got. They don't get any bigger or faster.’”
Not only was Peace looking to go faster, but he had the urge to compete. After doing some research, he stumbled upon a unique bicycle sold in England. Almost like a regular bike, Peace's special bike splits the back wheel into two wheels, providing more stability for the rider.
Peace started off slow, just happy to compete. But soon, he was racing at a national level.
“About 3 years ago, I was in my first national championships with only three other bikes,” Peace said. “I beat one guy. I was classified as a T1, which is medical classification. It was great; I was going to the world championships, and then when I got there, they classified me as a T2. It’s a really big difference from T1 to T2. When I was a T1, I was fighting for first place, but as a T2, I was automatically in ninth place. I didn’t do well at all at that world championship.”
Instead of letting his loss get to him, he decided to step up and match the expectations of a T2 cyclist.
“I told myself I’ve got a choice: I can pack it up and never ride again, or I can do what it says for the new classification, and I can make my way back up to the top,” Peace said. “And that’s what I did. Next year, I went from ninth place until I was fifth place out of 20. Then, these past two years I was in first place.”
En route to London next week for the 2012 Paralympic Games, which are Aug. 29 – Sept. 9, Peace credits the love and support of his family and girlfriend for helping him to succeed, as well as his attitude towards his recovery process.
“I never ever whined, ‘Why me?’” Peace said. “It’s done, it’s happened; now you have to look to the future. I always want to know, where do I go next? I think that never looking back – or never even looking at that minute [of the stroke] – always looking ahead has totally changed everything. I would say to anybody who has a stroke or disability, you have to look where you're going to.”