For those who have known Steven Peace since he was a boy in Albion, Michigan, it comes as no surprise that he became a Paralympic athlete. Whether he was swimming countless laps and taking honors classes in high school, or acing his courses at the U.S. Naval Academy and graduate school, he was dedicated and driven — destined for greatness. And greatness is where he's landed, albeit via a path no one expected for him.
In 2006, Peace was stationed in San Diego, working as a naval surface warfare officer. On a day much like any other, he returned home from work, had dinner with a friend and settled on the couch to watch a little TV. When he later stood to go to bed, he crumbled to the floor, unable to speak or comprehend what had hit him.
"Bam! It just hit me," Peace says. "I didn't know what it was or where I was. There was no pain. The only thing I could think to do was get to my front door to lock it. So, I spent roughly two hours pulling myself across the floor to the door to lock it and the next two to three hours crawling to my bed."
Peace didn't receive the help he so desperately needed until the following morning, when a co-worker wondered why Peace hadn't shown up for work and went to his house. Recognizing that something must be wrong, he called paramedics who were forced to break down the front door to reach Peace.
It was a stroke. At age 32, Peace experienced a blood clot in his heart, which traveled to his brain and burst, resulting in a massive brain bleed. He was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital. His naval career was over, he couldn't speak, he lost use of his right arm and was unable to walk independently, but — in typical Steven Peace fashion — he was not deterred.
"I had to make a decision," he says. "I could mope around or get my butt up out of bed. I chose to get up."
Over the next few months at the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center, Peace pulled from his reserves of strength and resilience, determined to do whatever it would take to get out of the hospital. When representatives from the Wounded Warriors Project approached Peace with the idea of a cycling event, he jumped at the opportunity.
The organization, founded to honor and empower service members who incurred a physical or mental injury or illness, helped find a recumbent bicycle for Peace. Within two years, Peace had "a need for speed" that the recumbent bicycle couldn't offer, so he researched his options and found a trike — much like a normal upright bicycle, but with two wheels splitting the back axle — being built in England and ordered one.
Several months — and more than a few falls — later, Peace began training and then competing in triathlons and cycling races on his trike. In 2010 he attended his first Paralympics Cycling U.S. National Championships and won, leading to an invitation to join Team USA. By 2012, he was racing in the Summer Paralympic Games in London, part of the Olympic Games.
He has since begun mentoring others through the Challenged Athletes Foundation and numerous military groups, received his USA Cycling coaching license and founded Peace Cycling Performance, where he trains both able-bodied and disabled cyclists, many who compete on a trike like his. He also continues to compete, placing in World Cups and championships on several continents as a member of Team USA and the U.S. Military Endurance Sports team.
"I wish that I had someone come talk to me right after my stroke like I talk to the athletes I mentor," Peace says. "I want them to know that it's not the end of the world — there's always another path. I had a wonderful career in the Navy before my stroke; now I have a wonderful, more beneficial career in cycling."
Peace received the Sharp Rehabilitation and Sharp HealthCare Foundation's 2011 Victories of Spirit Eagle Spirit Award for his extraordinary strength, determination and courage in the face of adversity. And in 2014, he married Sharp employee Sara Settle. Now living in Kensington, Peace is relishing in a different kind of greatness than expected, but one for which he was clearly destined. "You just never know," he says.