Former Broken Arrow sports star excels despite a life-altering challenge.
Peter Jessee played football, soccer and ice hockey for Broken Arrow High School before a surfing accident paralyzed him from the waist down. Today the University of Tulsa graduate is a landman for Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp.
Photos courtesy Bud Jessee
Peter Jessee excelled in football, soccer and ice hockey at Broken Arrow High School.
But his athletic honors suddenly took a back seat on May 23, 2008.
While on a family vacation to Hawaii to celebrate his high school graduation, Jessee and his older sister, Whitney, took a surfing lesson.
“After the first wave, my legs felt a little tingly, but I didn’t think much of it,” Jessee recalls. “Gradually, my back started hurting more and more. By the time the lesson was over, I was having terrible back pain.”
While resting on the beach, the pain increased and he lost use of his legs.
At Honolulu’s Queen’s Medical Center, Jessee was quickly diagnosed with Surfer’s Myelopathy, a rare and little understood condition. It occurs when a surfer hyperextends or arches his back off the surfboard when preparing to catch a wave. The movement disrupts blood flow to the spinal cord.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Jessee spent 10 soul-searching days at Queen’s wondering about his future. He then flew to Denver’s Craig Rehabilitation Hospital, one of the top rehabilitative centers in the country.
Sixty days of intense and often painful rehabilitation followed.
All this time, Jessee’s father, Bud, was at his side, while his mother, Janet, and sister shuttled back and forth between Tulsa and Denver.
Visits from a host of family and friends — including Carl Salazar, who as a sophomore battled Jessee, a senior, for the kicker’s spot on the varsity football team — helped break Jessee’s daily monotony of exercise and therapy.
He received many expressions of support, including an autographed hockey stick signed by members of the Colorado Avalanche and Oklahoma Sooners gear from coach Bob Stoops.
In early August 2008, Jessee returned to Tulsa, where more than 150 friends and relatives welcomed him home in his front yard.
His parents had a therapy pool installed to assist him with his rehabilitation.
“The pool got me up and moving,” Jessee says. “It was very beneficial.”
Through their ordeal, the family remained diligent in helping others in many ways, such as offering their rehab room to others in need.
Finding his way to the University of Tulsa, Jessee joined a fraternity, participated in student activities and graduated cum laude with a degree in energy management.
He accepted his diploma by walking across the Reynolds Center stage with the help of a Rewalk Machine — a walking assistance system — to a standing ovation.
Jessee, who is a landman for Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp., is quick to recognize the extent his parents played in his rehabilitative efforts.
“They jumped through hoops and over hurdles to provide the best for me,” he says. “They drove me around, took me to all my appointments and everything. I owe them a lot.”
Today Jessee is able to drive his own car. He uses the walking machine once every two weeks and a wheelchair the rest of the time, but he and his doctors hope he will someday regain the ability to walk unassisted.
Despite his life-changing ordeal and the everyday challenges he faces, he remains remarkably upbeat.
“My perspective on the world has changed since my injury,” he says. “You look at the world completely differently whenever something has been taken away from you. No matter what may happen to you, it could always be worse. It’s all about how you react to your fate.”