In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, I decided to tell my brief story and how I responded to having a traumatic stroke. I had an entirely different career path in mind but one night changed the course of my life forever. On October 16, 2006, while serving in the Navy, I suffered a massive stroke when I was alone. I was discovered lying on the floor of my home the next day. After lying in a week-long coma, I woke up to find out that I had to completely re-learn how to walk and talk. My stroke caused right-sided hemiplegia—partial paralysis of the right side of my body. I also had aphasia, making my speech non-existent. Despite feeling like my world was caving in around me, I refused to give up.
Before long, I was saying goodbye to the naval life I knew and loved for 16 years. Despite retiring as Lieutenant Commander with an honorable discharge, I felt lost. The most difficult challenge was finding a way to walk normally due to developing foot drop. After months of physical therapy, I eventually moved from a wheelchair to a hard plastic brace and walking cane. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to be given a new path in life.
About six months after my stroke, I was introduced to the Wounded Warrior Project, who understood that I wanted to continue doing something meaningful with my life. After learning I once had a passion for cycling, they obtained a recumbent bike that would allow me to ride despite permanent paralysis. I rode this bike for a while before deciding that I wanted something a bit faster and more competitive. To do so, I needed to find a unique bike and an AFO that would give me the range of mobility to become a more competitive cyclist. A bit of research eventually led to both an upright tricycle and my Allard BlueROCKER® brace.
I soon launched a second career in triathlons and cycling. Within four years following the stroke, I was not only a world champion cyclist but accompanied Team USA in London for the 2012 Paralympic Games. Although I didn’t medal, this was one of the most amazing experiences and it gave me a chance to return to another passion – traveling the world. 48 states, 39 countries, numerous National Championships, World Cups/Championships, (9) 620 mile Million Dollar Challenges, and (1) Soldier Ride Across America… All due in part to my BluROCKER® brace.
A couple years later, I began my own coaching service called Peace Cycling Performance. I also recruited and coached 14 new trike riders for our own team, including TeamUP co-captain and 2016 and 2020 Paralympic medalist Jill Walsh. Jill gave me the Order of Ikkos medals which is given to those who made superior coaches, mechanics, and/or place large role in the athlete winning that Paralympic medal.
Most recently, I have taken my talent and skills through the Navy and cycling and put it to good use. I have been hired as the Team Manager of the Challenged Athletes Foundation Cycling Teams, Women’s Handcycle and Trikes. As the Team Manager, I am responsible for 10 athletes ranging from developmental to World/Paralympic champions. I try to do everything for the athletes so they can focus on racing… mechanic, transport, hotels, photographer, etc.
Since competing, I have seen my mobility and attitude improve and when I am not racing or riding, I can be found running my coaching business as a Level 2 USA Cycling Coach or at the races with CAF Cycling Teams. Before my stroke, I never thought of competing at this level. Now, just put it in front of me, and I’ll do it. Despite what life may throw at you, Stroke Awareness Month makes me remember to live life to the fullest and remember that a new start may be right around the corner.
Navy Veteran and TeamUP ambassador Steven Peace lives in San Diego, CA with his wife Sara. When he’s not cycling, coaching or managing his teams Steven finds time for favorite hobbies, a few of which include gardening, cooking and traveling.