HULBERT, Okla. (KFOR) — 14 Mile Creek runs a crooked course through Wagoner County, past Hulbert on its way to Fort Gibson Lake downstream.
Steve Lovelace spent his life running through the woods here, or swimming in a deep hole that still exists beneath Highway 51.
“I love this area,” he smiles. “About as deep as the water goes, it goes through my veins.”
But the current of his own life is marked more than any other by one sharp turn, a horrific logging accident in November of 1982 that left him pinned for two hours.
He suffered a fractured skull and jaw, a shattered wrist, bruised heart, and crushed vertebrae in his back.
Lovelace recalls, “One of my neurosurgeons said it looked like a hand grenade had gone off in the middle of my back.”
Steve spent 3 months in a Tulsa hospital, but he made a promise to himself that he would walk out under his own power.
“I made my steps. I kept my promise, and I walked again,” he continues.
Steve weaned himself from pain killers with exercise.
It took years, but he started running short events.
Lovelace saw his first triathlon and decided to pursue that as well.
“I had always been active and had always pushed myself,” he says, “So triathlons seemed to fit.”
He entered the Lake Ponca Triathlon in 1986.
Not a person connected to the event was aware of his background.
He was afraid they wouldn’t let him compete.
“They might have seen my as a liability,” he thought.
Steve came in last, but to him it felt like victory.
He recalls, “Not many people are out there celebrating dead last, but to me, that was my first place.”
Lovelace still comes back to these Oklahoma waters to swim.
Healing or hardening?
He can’t tell.
“This is the area where I gained my toughness.”
How long can a person last underwater?
How much pain can one man endure to achieve a goal?
“Nothing is going to hold me down,” he states.
Steve knows better than most.
He only found out years later that he was one of the first disabled athletes to ever compete in that kind of event.
“I blazed my own trail as a disabled athlete,” he smiles.
The current of his life is measured in these clear waters.
He learned long ago not to fight it, but to swim with it.
Lovelace is now an ambassador for the USA Triathlon Foundation which is the fundraising arm of USA Triathlon.
Here is a link for more information on how that organization helps triathletes make it to competition.
Great State is sponsored by WEOKIE Credit Union