Last Place; First Place

Triathlete Steve Lovelace Pushes Through the Pain

When Steve Lovelace crossed the finish line in last place at the 1986 Triathlon, he had a secret. He had not revealed that he was disabled from a spinal cord injury for fear of elimination from the competition. Steve had not entered the race for glory, he’d entered it for himself. It took him nearly four hours, but crossing the finish line was reward enough.

In the 1980s, the Triathlon, as we know it, was in its infancy, as were paralympic sports. Steve was unaware that he’d made history as one of the first-ever para triathletes! The fact that he pushed himself so hard in an endurance competition is astonishing because of his debilitating pain, but it also reveals his strength.

Choosing to Walk

He was in his twenties when a tree split in half and pinned him down for two hours, leaving him with many injuries and the diagnosis of life in a wheelchair. Although he was paralyzed from the waist down, he was determined to walk out of the hospital. It was only a few steps, but he walked. “I couldn’t feel my legs, but I believed I could walk again,” Steve said.

He first learned to walk, then run, then cycle, then lift weights–which all helped him “push through the pain” in ways most people can’t understand. For nearly thirty years, Steve has suffered the daily inflammation of nerves around his spinal cord, a rare condition called arachnoiditis. It’s known as one of the most painful diseases in existence.

“I guess triathletes are gluttons for punishment,” Steve said with a laugh. “It’s a suffer-fest, but I find that exercise helps me manage the pain without taking pills or pain meds—and trust me, I’ve been on a slew of them. I finally took a stand that from now on, I‘m going to take a healthy and holistic approach instead.”

Telling His Story

Steve is currently training for the Triathlon again and competing in the Endeavour Games, an event for challenged athletes hosted by the University of Central Oklahoma. Additionally, the USA Triathlon Foundation recently named Steve as a team ambassador in its fundraising efforts to support budding triathletes and future Paralympians. He’s ecstatic to aid and improve the sport that he unwittingly pioneered.

“I hadn’t shared my story about competing in 1986 much until recently, but crossing that finish line was a moment that changed me forever in a positive way,” Steve said. “I decided that I should encourage others, foremost my own kids, to realize that nothing is insurmountable, regardless of adversity.”

“I could write a book about my life, and it would be a great Disney movie. My life has been a roller coaster, and not just from my accident. I had the unfortunate honor of being a pediatric X-ray tech for the medical examiner during the Oklahoma City Bombing. Identifying child victims has left me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve also had several heart attacks, too,” Steve said, “but instead of making me bitter, it’s fueled me to push past barriers. I set an athletic record, but what I really want is to set an example.”

To contact Steve, visit @splovelace on Instagram.

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