AGFL Triathlon Episode 76: Steve Lovelace, The Paratriathlon Pioneer

In this episode, Colin and Elliot have the pleasure of interviewing Steve Lovelace, one of the first paratriathletes in the sport. Steve nearly died while chopping firewood with a friend in a remote field in Oklahoma at the age of 20. In what can only be described as a freak accident, Lovelace became trapped when part of the tree split in half, catching him and pinning him between the trunk and the ground. With the weight of the massive tree slab crushing his body, it took two hours for his friend and a local farmer to free him with a chainsaw. When he arrived at the hospital, the doctors weren’t sure he would survive.

He did survive, but his injuries were extensive: A shattered wrist. A broken back. Both of his upper and lower jaws were crushed, the roof of his mouth split open. The swelling in his back so severe it caused temporary paralysis. The facial damage was so horrific, his appearance so altered, that surgeons used his high school senior portrait as a template as they worked to piece the bones back together.

From one minute to the next, Lovelace’s life shifted from that of a carefree, athletic, college kid to one marred by pain and physical challenges due to his debilitating injuries. For three months, he lay bound to a hospital bed, paralyzed from the waist down; his face swollen beyond recognition, shattered bones carefully pinned back into place. His once strapping, 150-pound frame shrunk to 90 pounds. When his doctors spoke solemnly of a life bound to a wheelchair; Lovelace told them he’d walk out of the hospital. Which, he did, but only a few steps, with crutches. The effort exhausted him.

It took time and plenty of physical therapy, but he re-learned to walk after regaining most of the function in his legs. His positive, can-do attitude led him to train for a triathlon, which was still in its early years at the time, when he watched the 1985 Ironman World Championships on television. Steve made history when he completed a triathlon in 1986; he shared a YouTube compilation of his journey here.

Enjoy the listen and thanks for joining us Steve!