GLENDALE, Ariz. – He stands tall, though by conventional measures, he is only three feet, two inches in height.
He walks on his hands.
And when he is honored during the PBR’s Celebrate America Tour at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday night, he’ll be one of the greatest athletes ever to grace the dirt in the PBR.
Dave Stevens was born without legs. That didn’t stop him from pursuing an outlandish dream to compete at the highest level in several sports.
Dave Stevens has played multiple sports despite his handicap.
In high school in the mid-1980’s, he was a three-sport athlete in football, baseball and wrestling. He set three Arizona state records: most takedowns in wrestling, the single-season record for baseball walks and most career walks.
Stevens went on to become the only athlete in history without legs to play college football and minor league baseball. He tried out for the Dallas Cowboys, the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Twins.
He calls himself “Forrest Gimp.” He shows up just about everywhere and has turned a disability into ability, wildly succeeding against seemingly insurmountable odds and touching everyone who comes across his path. Dreams are no longer categorized as outlandish when turned into reality.
When Stevens was wrestling in in high school, competing in six-team tournaments, action on the other five mats shut down so everyone could watch him.
He doesn’t court the attention. He doesn’t even want it. But if people are inspired, that’s fine with Stevens.
While playing independent league baseball for the Saint Paul Saints in 1996, his teammate, Darryl Strawberry, was attempting a comeback. Strawberry would later say he was ready to quit baseball. Then he saw a guy with no legs playing second base. If it weren’t for Stevens’ passion, attitude and iron-willed desire, Strawberry says he wouldn’t have made it back to the Majors.
Now, at 51, Stevens is trying sled hockey. He recently joined the Connecticut Wolfpack, and no surprise, has become a star.
“I had never played adaptive sports,” Stevens said. “Now they’re calling me ‘The Legless LeBron James.’ I’m this old man slamming into 25 year olds.”
Dave Stevens has picked up sled hockey recently.
Early in his career, sports officials didn’t know what to do with an eager kid who lacked legs but not gumption, and refused to believe he was any different.
He had to battle the state of Arizona to even get on a football field.
“I don’t think anybody without legs had tried to play sports anywhere,” he said. “I had to take all kinds of blood tests and screenings. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me or that could keep me from playing sports, so they had to give in.
“All I ever wanted was to play sports. Sports gave me opportunities and got me where I am. I wouldn’t be PBR hometown hero without sports.”
Stevens’ connection to PBR comes through a longstanding friendship with legendary bull rider Cody Custer, the 1992 PRCA Champion who rode in the PBR and chalked up a career-high 95.5-ride on Red Wolf at the 1998 World Finals. The two grew up in Wickenburg, Arizona, and have remained good friends over the years. Stevens developed a very strong appreciation for professional bull riding while watching his friend.
For a man who faces challenges in everyday tasks like going up and down a flight of stairs, Stevens keenly appreciates the competitive plight of a bull rider against an angry bull ten times his size.
Dave Stevens and Cody Custer.
“I love the confrontation of the riders against the bulls, man versus beast,” he said. “You get those times when the riders are holding onto dear life. It’s thrilling, and it’s beautiful.”
Even though he recently became a championship sled hockey player, Stevens had no prior experience in the sport. But that wasn’t about to stop this fearless warrior from giving it his all.
“It’s better to try and fail than to sit around and wish and daydream,” he said. “I’ve failed a lot in life, but my successes have far outweighed my failures.”
Beyond the playing field, the successes include seven Emmy Awards earned as a content editor during a 20-year run at ESPN, where he pushed the network to show highlights of the legendary bull Bushwacker.
Stevens says his greatest success is raising three terrific sons who, like their dad, are baseball junkies and grateful for daily lessons they get on what it takes to be a real man.
“I live in your world, you don’t live in mine,” Stevens said. “I’m certainly not complaining but I just want people to not take things for granted. I appreciate this acknowledgement from PBR. God is great, and I’m so thankful for the blessings in my life.”
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