May 30, 2012 12:00AM
Friday night, in front of many family members and friends, Pechone Stepps received a master’s degree from Pittsburg State University. It was one more milestone in his long recovery from an injury that changed his life in more ways than most people can imagine.
In 2002, Stepps, a graduate of Fort Scott High School and a former collegiate basketball player, was living a dream.
“One minute I was living in New York and coaching at Division I St. John’s,” Stepps said. “The next minute everything changed.”
Stepps was changing a flat tire on the side of an Arkansas Interstate highway on May 24, 2002, when an under-aged drunk driver plowed into the vehicle. The impact broke Stepps’ neck and arm and dragged his body over the dirt and pavement.
What followed was months of recuperation and rehabilitation. For the first three weeks that took place in Arkansas and for three months after at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver.
“With a spinal cord injury, you have to relearn everything,” Stepps said. “Simple things you take for granted like going to the bathroom, you have to learn to do all over again.”
In the years since the accident, Stepps has made steady progress. He still relies on a wheelchair as his primary method for getting around, but on June 12, 2007, 1,845 days after the accident, he took his first unaided steps with a walker. He continues to work toward his goal of eventually leaving his wheels behind.
Despite his injury, Stepps is still involved in the sport he loves. He coaches the freshman boys’ basketball team at Fort Scott High School where he also works in the school’s A+ program, which helps students identify and complete the credits they need for graduation.
Stepps, whose undergraduate degree was in communication, will earn a master of science degree in health, human performance and recreation this weekend and he expects plenty of friends and family to share the moment.
It is, Stepps said, one more important step in a journey he didn’t plan, but that has taught him a lot about himself and brought many wonderful people into his life.