This conversation started on August 23rd, 2018. Things happen for us, not to us.
Steve how young are you?
I’m 51 years young.
What was your experience with turning 51?
I’ve always been an “age is just a number” kinda guy. Turning 30 or 40 didn’t bother me in the slightest. In my mind I’m getting smarter and healthier with every year I grow. However turning 50 did make me think. Like wow I’m 50. How’d that happen? But thinking and reflecting is a good thing, as long as you’re reflecting the good things, your accomplishments, things you’ve overcome and are grateful for. And again, I believe I’m more health conscious and train harder than I ever have, so I’m ok with the big 50. Everything is mindset.
What was the most impactful moment in your 50th year on planet earth?
Wow, that’s an easy one. Last year I turned 50 in August and a month later I crossed the finish line of the Spartan Ultra Beast in Killington Vermont. I knew I was turning 50 before the Ultra Beast and I’ve accomplished and overcome a lot since my accident and thought to myself, what’s the next goal.
I firmly believe we have to set goals that stretch us and that was definitely a stretch for me.
Before we talk about what happened before the Spartan Ultra beast in Killington, “the accident”, could you please explain what it was like to cross that finish line?
Well for starters my wife was standing there waiting for me and that meant the world to me. I was there with a whole group of friends that we train with on our OCR property and they were hooting and hollering so I remember that. To be totally honest, I was so exhausted I don’t think it really set in what I had just accomplished until later. Knowing I completed something, after what I’ve gone through, that many healthy people did not finish. There was definitely a “Wow shit I did it!” moment.
I was there that day. We shared that mountain. What was the one memory of that day that is forever burned into your memory?
Definitely the camaraderie of everyone, but it definitely went up a notch, along with respect, on the 2nd lap with that green Ultra bib on. Everyone chanting and cheering on the Ultra-Beasters. And I had to stop and think a couple of times, yeah that’s me…an Ultra-Beaster. That’s a pretty cool memory.
I guess that hit me because before I ever entertained the idea of doing it, I thought no way I could ever do that.
Are you lining up for the Ultra beast this year? if you are why? if you aren’t why not?
No I’m not. I said one and done. Check that off the list. However never say never. Last years Ultra Beast took so much out of me, in training time and physically from the race. I ended up with pneumonia, then stomach problems that I’m still slowly working on figuring out. I fight through the aches and pains everyday from my accident. I just don’t let that define who I am. So no Ultra this year but who knows what the future holds. After all, I still have my empty drop bin sitting around. I hate to think it will never be used again.
Steve could you please share the accident with us?
On May 2, 2010 I was taking my son to a soccer game. We were driving North on a major highway not knowing at the same time, a girl was traveling South in the North bound lane. That’s right, she was going the wrong direction on the highway. We collided head on at 65-70 mph. My son and I were in a little 2 seater sports car. Before I go on, my son is ok. He had some surgeries and rehab, but is doing great. Thank God I took the brunt of the hit/injuries. We later found why the girl was going the wrong way. She got on an exit ramp due to being twice the legal limit drunk and had drugs in her system. We were all flown to a nearby trauma center where I would spend 3 weeks and many surgeries. I suffered 26 broken bones, including my back, pelvis, and worst of all for me because of my love of trail running, both my heels were crushed. So after multiple surgeries on my heels and wrist, that were shattered in 7 places meant a lot of rehab and spending the remainder of that summer (3 months) in a nursing home. I was either bed ridden or with help, I could sit in a wheelchair.
Hey, I was the youngest guy at the nursing home.
Youngest guy in the nursing home. Love your humor brother, no question, just admiration and respect.
What are your feelings on drunk driving after being the victim of this girls decision?
I’m totally against it obviously. I like to drink a beer once in a while just like the other guy, but I’d never drive drunk, Hell I don’t get drunk anymore. To each his own, but if your going to drink more than one or two give someone else the keys. It’s just not worth it. Not for you, or possibly the other person. On another note, texting while you drive pisses me off! I guess because you see it everyday. It’s sickening that people can’t put their phones down while driving. There’s way more texting and driving than drunk driving.
What did the doctors tell you when you woke from your first surgery about what they thought you could or couldn’t do in the future?
I remember that day all too well.
He said to me “I hear you’re a runner. Well your running days are over but be thankful, you may be able to ride a bike.”
It was like having my heart ripped out. I thought I met the woman of my dreams who loves to trail run, we love trail running. I proposed to her on a trail run at our favorite spot. And now in a blink of an eye I had that taken from me.
When you were lying there by yourself during the 3 weeks in the hospital or the 3 months in the nursing home what did you think about?
Healing, getting better. There were definitely low moments, but I tried not to stay there. I love personal development and have a library full of personal development books. Wow did that reading come in to play for this moment.
I just tried to stay grateful that I wasn’t paralyzed, or worse yet, dead. That my son was ok. I knew I’d walk again, but not much beyond that.
Steve, having that level of gratitude in a situation like that is incredibly inspiring. Thank you for reframing my perspective and allowing me to be a student.
It’s one thing to read it in a book, but how did you put it into action when you were obviously in so much pain and so much was taken away at that moment?
I’m truly not sure. I guess you could compare it to my Ultra Beast. I didn’t know how I was going to get through that, but I did. But I also prepared tremendously for that. But, as I sit here and contemplate, I also prepared for what happened to me by reading the books, watching and going to seminars, listening to podcasts, following people like Tony Robbins, etc… I like to say success is when preparation meets opportunity. I’m far from perfect, but I believe I was prepared for the Ultra Beast the best I could have been and I guess, also prepared for what life threw at me in the way of the accident. I suppose the Ultra Beast and a life changing accident were the opportunities.
Everything’s perception and I believe it’s all in how you look at things.
A life changing accident was an opportunity. Damn brother. Could you please elaborate further on that amazing, humbling thought please?
Well again, I was paralleling that statement with my thoughts on that I believe success is when opportunity meets preparation. I used the Spartan Ultra as my first example. I was prepared to finish that race. I had the opportunity to run that race that day, like many others. I was prepared and I finished it after everything I’d been through. Many didn’t. Maybe they weren’t as prepared as they should have been. Maybe they got injured. Maybe they gave up mentally. I don’t know, and by all means, I’m not taking anything away from any of those warriors on that mountain that day that DNF’d. Maybe they learned something that day about themselves and maybe life just threw an obstacle in their path they couldn’t overcome that day. Lord knows that happens.
Just so they realize that failure is an event and not a person.
I believe all my personal development up to the day of the accident (opportunity) helped me to succeed and lead me to where I am today. Opportunities are disguised in all types of events. Accidents, tests, games, competitions, jobs, marriages, etc… I believe things happen for us, not to us. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow and hurts at the time, but if we don’t allow certain events/opportunities to define us, we come out stronger on the other side. A “woe is me attitude “ isn’t going to get you anywhere in life. Well maybe it will get you a pity party, but that’s not going to work in your favor.
My favorite quote is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Did you ever feel bad for yourself?
Sure, but like I said, I didn’t allow myself to stay there. That wasn’t going to serve me well.
Where you angry at that girl for what she did to you?
Yes, but not right away. At the beginning no, because I just didn’t go there. What was done was done. I needed to move on and heal. I don’t mean to sound like some mental Ninja or something, and to be honest, I’m not sure how I was that strong in the beginning, other than I just know you get more out of what you focus on. I think more of that anger came later, after a lot of healing happened. Meaning I came a long way. I ran again after they said I would never run again. Hell, I went from running my first Spartan Race to a Trifecta, triple Trifecta, Ultra-Beast, etc… The anger and frustration set in when I was doing so good, but yet I couldn’t be competitive. I wanted to be competitive with guys in my age group. Then I’d tell myself “ok Steve, be grateful, don’t go there, and so on.” Finally one day after a race, checking the standings and really down on myself, I lost it… later. Meaning later at home. I keep stuff to myself, but finally I told my wife
“You know what…Fuck it! I’m tired of being positive, upbeat, inspirational, motivating blah, blah, blah! If that Bitch wouldn’t have hit me I’d be running with the big boys in my age group! I’d do burpee free races, I’d give it all I got, but I just can’t run like I used to. I’m in pain all the time. I run through the pain.”
But then I get out of the muck and moved on. Yes, I’m human.
Sometimes the body heals quicker than the emotions attached to the injuries. Do you still feel like you are healing?
Ain’t that the truth. Absolutely I’m still healing, physically and emotionally. I’m truly grateful for this interview because I have to tell you, I haven’t reflected back on this, at this level, in a while and it’s very therapeutic, so thank you Scott. You’re making me really want to get back to writing the book I’ve said I was going to write. And yes, still healing physically. I believe the human body is amazing! The harder I push it, it seems to respond. Sometimes you go a few steps back before forward, but hey that’s life, right. I keep pushing and learning about the human body and try to be a little better and a little more knowledgeable, and apply it each day.
Can you share with us the idea of your book?
Since my accident I’ve wanted to write a book. At first I thought about a memoir, but I’m leaning towards more of an inspirational personal development book, using my story as the example of how others can overcome the obstacles in their life. Then actually parallel it with obstacle course racing. I’ve always said OCR is a great parallel to life, meaning the obstacles they throw at us.
Are you gonna let them stop you or figure them out and move on.
Why did you pick obstacle course racing?
Actually, a gentleman asked my wife to be on their team in a Spartan Race. It was the Palmerton Sprint. I was a spectator that day, still recovering. I was actually getting around the venue using a cane. I watched her run that day and for a moment wished I could be doing it, then remembered what the Dr’s said.
Then a fire lit inside me and I thought, who the hell are they to tell me what I can’t do. I kept that to myself and then when my wife was signing up for the same race the next year, I told her to sign me up.
So basically I just witnessed my wife running this thing called OCR/Spartan and that’s what started it. I never knew anything about OCR Racing.
Have you ever tried to talk to the girl who hit you? Or have you heard from her?
No. First time I saw her was in her court/sentencing appearance. She walked in as I was pushed in my wheelchair. She looked at me and I believe there was remorse, but I’m not sure if it was because what she did to me and my family or that she knew she was about to be sentenced to jail time. She never even said she was sorry. I decided to forgive her anyway. I figured that would be best for my healing. Holding on to anger wasn’t going to help my recovery. Besides, I believe she had a rough upbringing. Last I heard, she did her jail time, got out, violated her parole and was sent back to prison.
Do you think she saw forgiveness in your eyes that day?
Yes. I actually made eye contact with her and kinda nodded. I felt she got it. Kinda weird to understand. Now what she decides to do with that is on her.
Can you describe what it’s like being in pain all the time and trying to do something you love?
Wow, tough question. I seriously think I’ve grown immune to it physically and emotionally. If I happen to have a good day with no pain for a moment, I literally stop and think wow, I don’t feel any pain in my feet, cool. The thing is, you live on your feet. Working, training, yard work, racing, and just being social. Evenings I’m mentally and physically spent. But as far as what I love, it’s the people…my wife, friends, and people we train and race with. All the people at the races. It’s the atmosphere. My wife’s a Spartan SGX Coach and we’ve created an obstacle training grounds on our property that we share to help a lot of people prepare for races. That’s very rewarding to me. To witness people jumping that fire and crossing that finish line is so awesome. Especially the ones who didn’t think they had it in them.
They say I inspire them and I tell them, they inspire me.
When you hear other athletes or people complain about their aches and pains or they can’t do something because of some minor ailment, how does that make you feel, knowing what you have overcome and have to deal with?
Ha! Ha! Great question. I witness that on a daily basis in life but yes, also in races. There’s no easy answer and probably not one that fits everyone. First of all I believe people have to take personal responsibility for themselves. With that being said, we just live in a crazy fast paced world where people, including me, take things for granted. Here’s the test…it’s easy to be upbeat, positive, happy, and motivated when everything’s going your way. It’s another thing when things go wrong. That’s when you’re tested in life. That’s where gratitude comes in. I believe we all struggle with that at times. I know I still do and I have to stop and go “ Really! After everything you’ve been through.” But hey, some people would bitch if their ice cream was cold. I believe it’s just being aware and grateful how lucky we are to have this amazing human body we live in, and to take care of it. Most people take it for granted. So I try not to take it personal or be offended. Like when I was bed ridden, lying in the nursing home unable to walk due to both my heels being crushed and reconstructed, I’d watch people walk by and I’d think “Do they appreciate their two good feet?” Probably not, but who would unless something happened to them or someone close. So I try not to judge. If it’s in a race, it depends on the situation. Sometimes I’ll just kinda agree if people are whining and moaning about something and then I’ll add “but it’s a great day to be on this mountain. Eight years ago I couldn’t even walk and was told I’d never run again, but here I am. Life is Good!” I try to say it in a motivational way. And most people respond well to that. A lot say something like, “Holy shit, that’s amazing.” I have no room to complain and they take off or pick it up a step. I believe I’ve inspired a lot of people on the mountains over the last handful of years racing.
Prior to the “accident” do you feel you had the level of gratitude you have post “accident”?
No. I had gratitude and knew how important it was to have it, but I don’t think I practiced it as I do today, and I could still do better today. I believe we all need that constant reminder. I do have a good practice now to start and end everyday with gratitude. My wife and I, before going to bed, will state a few things out loud we’re grateful for.
If you could go back in time, would you not be in the car that day, on that road, or would you leave things as they are?
That’s kind of a tough one. Initially I’d say no. I would not be in the car that day. So much pain and suffering physically and emotionally for me and my wife. Lost years of my life so to speak. I still deal with pain on a daily basis. I can’t run like I used to, so I’m not as competitive as I’d like to be. There’s an emotional side of it no one really knows about. The list goes on. But then there’s all the people I’ve inspired along the way, near and far, as a result of the accident and recovery. People close that know me and people afar from social medial, the papers, the TV show, etc… so I guess my answer is, if I’m being selfish no, but if I think of others yes.
If you feel comfortable, could you share some of the emotional side of the accident? If you aren’t comfortable, I completely understand and respect your privacy.
I think at first it’s just a shock. Like you’re in another world. Questioning what happened and why. But In the beginning I was so hopped up on pain medication that I was in la la land. I was always physically fit and healthy, not to mention I finally met the woman of my dreams and we loved working out, running, and being active. And in a blink of an eye, that was possibly stripped away. I remember the Dr. coming in my room and saying
“ I hear you’re a runner, well both your heels have been crushed and probably the worst I’ve seen, so your running days are over.”
That was like having my heart ripped out. Shortly after that I questioned a lot of things. Things like… is this beautiful woman going to leave me because now I’m broken, and I actually thought I wouldn’t blame her. I’d want her to be happy. I was bed ridden for 3 months and had to use a bed pan. That was demoralizing, having a nurse have to wipe my ass for me. Having to kinda start over again once I was able to walk. A simple thing like walking, mowing grass, etc… was so hard. Being in a wheelchair for a while, people look at you funny. It’s true, they do. Then you try to workout and start running again and people think you’re crazy. After a lot of trying and pain, you start to think that maybe they’re right. The long-term pain does something to you mentally. I’m short a lot with my wife, which would cause frustration and arguments. It was tough and still is at times.
How has helping others helped you heal?
It takes your mind and focus off you and puts it on them. Helping others with their success is very rewarding. You don’t have to go through a tragedy like I did to struggle. I enjoy helping people at our OCR property. Just witnessing someone get the rope climb or the 8 foot wall for the first time and thanking you is very rewarding. I believe when you’re serving others at any level, that takes the stress off of you and it is very healing.
What does it feel like to inspire people?
It feels great. I’m a humble guy and try not to get caught up in all that but, so many times I have people tell me how I’ve inspired them and it just makes me happy, happy for them. Again, it’s not about me. It could just be an inspirational Facebook quote, but there are people reading them and a lot of times they’re reading it right when they need it. I remember one time going to the gym in my wheelchair and a guy told me he was ready to quit for the day, that he just wasn’t into it. “Then I came in to workout in my wheelchair and he said to himself, ok if he can be here getting it done, then he’d keep his ass there and get it done. Good stuff!
How did you get involved in the spartan TV show?
I simply applied and shared my story. I guess they thought I had a good story. Good for TV. It was an amazing experience. And I still have people coming up to me and saying they watched me on TV and were inspired by my story. So it was a win, win. A great experience for me and my team and we inspired a lot of people along the way. There were a lot of amazing athletes on the show. I was honored to be a part of it.
What would 51 year young Steve say to 25-year-old Steve if he could travel back in time?
Wow, this is a tough one. As I’m reflecting and thinking I’m like… my son is 25, how crazy is this question. You have no idea. So then I’m like, what would I say to my son. I’d tell him to dream, dream big, set goals… Big goals, and chase them down. I’d tell him to create a dream board and to visualize and feel what it would be like to own, accomplish, and obtain what he desires. To have faith and hope to accomplish anything he puts his mind to. To feed your mind and grow with knowledge. And most importantly, to create a plan and take action on that plan, no matter how small the steps are. I’m a firm believer in knowledge is not power, the application of knowledge is power. We all have a certain level of knowledge, but it’s having the ability and taking the initiative to apply it that counts.
What is your greatest fear?
It used to be not being enough. Smart enough, cool enough, rich enough, tough enough, all the enough’s. Then I grew older and wiser. I’m pretty good now, but not 100 percent. I just don’t give a shit about trying to “keep up with the Jones’ ” anymore. A fear I have today is that I still struggle with why am I here.
What is my purpose. My fear is taking those unanswered questions to the grave with me.
What would you change about the world if you had the power to change one thing?
Man, you’re asking big questions now. Probably for everyone to be more childlike. To stay connected to Mother Earth and the great outdoors. Look at children, if they see a mud puddle or a dirt pile, they’re in it or on it. They’re playing, exploring, having fun. For everyone to love and respect the great outdoors. I guess that’s why I love to trail run, hunt, hike, run OCR/Spartan Races. Oh, and for people to get their damn faces out of their phones. No texting and driving! Sorry guess that’s more than one.
You must have received a lot of love during your recovery from the accident. What does LOVE mean to you and did it evolve or change after the accident?
I’m not usually a mushy kinda guy. I guess I can be kinda hard at times. Love for me… I love my wife and I’ll express that. I love my son. Other types of love, I don’t know. We were never a loving family, at least outwardly, growing up. We never heard “I love you” growing up. But yet I’d tell my son and wife all the time “love you”. I guess Love for me, relating to after the accident, is just close family and friends being compassionate and caring, helping, motivating, inspiring, and being there for me in whatever capacity. One time after my accident a friend was taking me to physical therapy and she got my walker out of the car and I stood up and when I reached for it she pulled it away from me and said “come get it”. She was making me work for it and by doing that, making me a stronger, better person.
And she’s also just a shit. That’s Love.
I’m going to throw 3 words at you. Could you tell me what they mean to you?
Grind it out! Feel the pain and move forward.
No time for that. Self pity helps no one. Everyone wants you to come to their pity party, but that’s not going to serve them. Maybe give them a warm fuzzy feeling short-term, but not long-term. You’d be better off telling them to suck it up cupcake!
“Live life with passion!” That’s what drives us to do what we do. Without passion you’re probably not going to be too successful in whatever goals you’re trying to achieve. Passion ignites the fuel inside us.
If you could look into your crystal ball what will the life of 70-year-old Steve look like?
I’m retired from my job. I awake in the morning next to my beautiful wife. We enjoy breakfast together. I enjoy her smile and laughter. We go for our morning walk or maybe even head to the mountains for a trail run. Obviously we’re still running Spartan/OCR Races. Maybe we’ve moved our OCR Training from the property at our home to a bigger property and now train and have trainers helping and guiding others on their journey through OCR racing and life in general. I will continue to inspire in some way, shape, or form. Maybe I’m staring at the book I wrote on my coffee table and thinking about all I’ve done, accomplished, and people I’ve inspired and that yes, I really did make a difference.
I mattered. And then it dawns on me… and I’m not done yet.
If you could write the first 3 sentences of your eulogy what would you want it to say?
Don’t mourn my death, celebrate my life. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. Life won’t always be easy but celebrate it, be cautious how you respond to it, and live with hope, faith, and passion.
This post was previously published on www.over50badasses.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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