Like all young boys who play baseball, Chad Peery dreamed of circling the bases in front of a screaming crowd of adoring fans.
That dream came true for Peery on Saturday night at RedHawks Field in Bricktown. He just never dreamed that he would do it in a wheelchair.
Peery, carrying his two young sons on his lap, took a trip in his motorized wheelchair around the bases at RedHawks Field in Bricktown as thousands gave the Oklahoma City police officer a standing ovation.
His two boys, McKade, 6, and Morgan, 4, high-fived the Oklahoma City and Iowa players who stood along the first- and third-base lines as Peery made the emotional journey from home to home.
“The kids loved it,” Peery said. “It was absolutely amazing.”
Such ceremonies are nothing new for Peery, who has become a hero in the Oklahoma City community, but he never takes them for granted.
“It's always emotional,” he said. “You never get used to it.”
Peery, 34, was paralyzed in a savage beating six months ago but is making a remarkable recovery. He was honored Saturday night by the RedHawks at the ballpark where he loved to work security as an off-duty police officer.
Sports have always been a part of Peery's life, from when he played baseball as a boy to being the gritty fullback and linebacker for Mount St. Mary High School as a teenager to being the doting dad coaching his own kids as an adult.
In fact, some of the lessons Peery learned through sports are motivating him today in his recovery from the violent attack that robbed him of full use of his arms and legs.
Acts of kindness
As an Oklahoma City police officer, Peery often witnessed the worst in people. That certainly was true six months ago on the night he was attacked at a bar and left paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Since that day, Peery has experienced just the opposite. He has seen more good in people in the past six months since his injury than he did in the previous six years of working as a reserve deputy sheriff in Haskell County or as an Oklahoma City police officer.
His faith in people has been renewed.
Like the people who just hand over their money to the Oklahoma City police officers they see on the street, telling them it's for their buddy who is hurt.
Like the people who send $5 and $10 cashier checks to Peery's home with notes attached that read, “I wanted to do something for you but this is all I can afford. I hope it helps.”
Like the strangers who see him in public and just run up and hug him, telling him that they are praying for him.
“He is not only a hero to our family, but I have never seen, and I have lived in Oklahoma City since 1965, I have not seen our community rally around one individual for any single event like this,” said Mike de la Garza, Peery's uncle and retired basketball coach and athletic director at Edmond Memorial High School.
Peery is overwhelmed by the support and tries to make as many public appearances as he is able to show his appreciation.
“I would have never thought in a million years I would have had the support from the community I've had, through the prayers, the cards from all over the United States,” he said. “I've been very blessed. I've had a lot of prayers answered.”
Road to recovery
Peery was off-duty and out of uniform the night of Feb. 15 at Dan O'Brien's Public House in northwest Oklahoma City when a bartender asked him to remove three rowdy customers who twice had tried to start fights.
While Peery was escorting the men from the bar, one grabbed him in a headlock and another started delivering “haymaker” punches to the face, witnesses said. Seconds later, Peery lay beaten outside the bar. His neck was broken.
The three men — Joshua B. Rinken of Norman, Jimmy Dan Smith of Tuttle and Cadmio Antonio Lopez of Tuttle — are charged in Oklahoma County District Court with assault and battery and face a November trial.
Doctors gave Peery little hope for any recovery immediately after the injury.
“They told me if I was lucky, maybe I would have some movement in my arms and that would be it,” he said.
“Realistically, they didn't expect me to have any movement at all below the neck. I've gotten more back in six months than most people ever get back with this type of injury.”
Peery is now standing and wiggling his toes in the aquatic pool “which is amazing,” said Dr. Al Moorad, medical director of the Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital.
When Peery first came to the center, he couldn't feed or dress himself or propel his manual wheelchair, Moorad said.
Now Peery can do all of those things “which is remarkable,” Moorad said. “I did not expect this would happen in this short of a period. It's absolutely beyond what I expected.”
Moorad said the “amazing support” from Peery's family and the community has aided in his recovery
“There is no way I would have told you two months ago he would be doing what he is doing now,” Moorad said.
Peery is regaining function at a much faster rate than others with similar spinal cord injuries, Moorad said.
“We pray to God that is going to continue and not stop,” Moorad said. “He is the most highly motivated kid. He believes in himself.
“He may stay at a wheelchair level for a long time to come. Only time will tell us what other recoveries are going to happen.”
Peery has a goal of walking by the end of the year. He still doesn't have much use of his hands but can wrap his arms around his children and squeeze and hug them.
“He believes he is going to walk again, and those are the people that actually do,” said Phil Williams, a fellow Oklahoma City police officer and friend.
What impresses Williams the most about his friend is that Peery always seems to have a smile on his face and be upbeat.
“I don't know that I would be that positive about it,” Williams said. “I don't know how I could be.”
Peery said he's heard similar comments from many of his friends, but he confesses it's not always true. There are dark days where he finds it difficult to be positive. Adding to the pain, Peery also is now going through a divorce.
But he tries to stay focused on his recovery and not dwell on the negatives in his life.
“You definitely have down days where you question why it happened,” he said. “You cry and cuss and scream, and then you get up the next day and you move on.
“It doesn't do me any good to be bitter and angry with the guys that did this to me. If I let myself become bitter and focus on the guys that did this to me, I only hurt myself.”
Attitude is everything
As a high school athlete, Peery wasn't gifted with great size but would play anywhere the coaches put him.
“I was a little vertically challenged for basketball,” Peery jokes.
At 5-6, Peery was a natural point guard. Despite his size, the basketball coaches at Mount St. Mary liked to practice Peery in the post position against the big men because of his toughness.
Peery would bang with them and give the big men more of a workout than anyone else on the team.
Football, however, was Peery's favorite sport even though he weighed just 155 pounds and was about as tall as a fireplug by comparison to most players. He played fullback and outside linebacker for the Rockets.
“We did a whole lot of sweeps and flares out for passes,” Peery said. “I was fairly quick. If I could get to the outside, I did pretty good.”
A favorite memory is the upset of Alva, one of the top-ranked teams in the state, during the Rockets' homecoming game in Peery's sophomore year.
“I think they were ranked No. 1. It was a huge win,” Peery said. “We went and played them the next year at Alva and they annihilated us. They definitely got us back.”
Now during therapy, Peery often thinks of the sign that was hanging in the football locker room at Mount Saint Mary. It read, “Attitude Is Everything.”
He also focuses on the lessons that Uncle Mike taught him in his summer basketball camps about how to shoot free throws by visualizing the ball going through the basket.
“I never thought I would use that thought process to learn how to walk again,” Peery said.
Peery said he often tries to visualize the movements his body is supposed to make in an attempt to regain muscle memory.
“He wants to be able to walk so he can be a better dad to his kids,” de la Garza said. “I am so proud to be in his family. He is a bulldog all the way. He will not give up.”
It's a wonderful life
Before Peery became a police officer, he held jobs as a loan officer, a financial investment adviser and chief financial officer for a medical clinic.
He gave up crunching numbers for catching bad guys because the life was more exciting and fulfilling to him. As a police officer, there were times when he truly believed he had made a difference in someone's life.
“That's what it's all about,” Peery said. “When you can go home and say, ‘I did something good tonight.'”
That hasn't changed even though Peery is in a wheelchair. In fact, Peery may be reaching more lives today than he ever did before as a police officer.
“He is still a cop, and he is still making a difference in people's lives every day in that wheelchair,” de la Garza said. “I can see how people are inspired by him.”
Peery recently received a letter from a stranger thanking him for saving his life.
The man's wife attended a fundraiser for Peery and bought for her husband a heart scan that had been donated by the Oklahoma Heart Hospital.
The heart scan detected the man was on the verge of a massive heart attack.
“In the letter, the man said, ‘You don't know me, but if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here today,'” Peery said. “Had this not happened to me that would have never happened to him.
“There are so many things that have happened like that. You don't realize how many lives you touch. More than you would ever expect.”