Almost from the moment he regained consciousness after a single-car accident on Nov. 12, 2016, in which he lost most of his left leg, a promising pro football career and nearly his life, Isaiah Pead began plotting his next move.
"When I woke up with a breathing tube in my mouth and the doctors and my family got around to telling me what happened, I obviously was shocked. But while it may seem almost unfair, I didn’t question it because I’m a faithful man and I believe in the Lord’s plan," said Pead, a 2008 Eastmoor Academy graduate who was a standout running back at the University of Cincinnati and played five seasons in the NFL.
"I didn’t ever cry. I’m not the type of person to feel sorry for myself. I’ve overcome a lot of things in my life. I just wondered how I could somehow get back into competitive sports. Track was the first thing that came to mind."
In recent weeks, Pead, 28, began introductory talks with U.S Olympic team officials about training for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. He subsequently traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with a company that specializes in above-knee prosthetics, and also to get information about funding, sponsorship and other logistics.
After the meeting, Pead — who won state track championships in the 100 and 400 meters at Eastmoor — excitedly proclaimed that he planned to chase gold medals in the 2020, 2024 and 2028 Paralympic Games.
"If they let me on the track, I’m going for the gold, period," he told TMZ.
Pead since has learned it is a complicated and expensive endeavor. Prosthetic blades can cost up to $500,000, and they last only two to three years. He will need to find a coach, a training facility and a sponsorship or foundation to support him.
"My immediate thought was I wanted to run the 400 meters, which was my specialty in high school, but a lot depends on how much leg you have to excel in various events," he said. "Some athletes are cut right at or just below the knee and have a hamstring. I don’t have a hamstring. I learned that it takes a certain talent to be good in certain events. But I’ll put the work in. I’ll get really strong flexors and glutes and go from there. It’s a long process, but that’s nothing new. Everything since the night of my accident has been a process."
Pead remembers nothing of the crash. According to investigators, neither drugs nor alcohol was involved, and no charges were filed.
After a night of clubbing, Pead and former Cincinnati roommate and teammate Wesley Richardson were eastbound on I-670 near 5th Avenue on the way to a Waffle House at about 2:30 a.m. when the car hit a bump and Pead lost control of his 2011 Cadillac on a curve going roughly 90 mph.
The car went airborne, struck a guardrail and Pead — who was not wearing a seat belt — was ejected through the windshield. When Richardson, who was wearing a seat belt, regained consciousness, he found Pead’s severed leg on the car’s console.
Richardson, an Olentangy Liberty graduate, suffered a concussion and other minor injuries and was treated and released from OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. Pead, who nearly bled to death, underwent emergency surgery and spent two days in critical condition. He also suffered three completely torn ligaments in his right knee. He spent nearly a month at Grant and has undergone eight operations, most on his severed left leg.
Eastmoor Academy boys track coach Jason Lewis was at Pead’s bedside when he regained consciousness and was told of his injuries.
"He never once showed any emotion or asked, 'Why did this happen to me?,' " Lewis said. "His biggest concern seemed to be how his passenger was. His attitude through this whole ordeal has been really inspiring to me. I'm excited to see how the next chapter unfolds."
After his release and recovery, Pead went to work managing Stampede Trucking, a vehicle-moving service. He also is fully committed to raising his son, Deuce, who was born to him and girlfriend Ruby Bowman just six days before his accident.
"My son was born," said Pead, "and then I was reborn."
Bowman said Pead never wallowed in self-pity about his situation.
"As soon as he got out of the hospital, Isaiah just accepted the fact that he had to take things one step at a time," she said. "He has the attitude that we've got to do what we've got to do and moves from one goal to the next."
Pead, who spent four seasons with the then-St. Louis Rams and also had stints with Miami and Pittsburgh, said he does push-ups and sit-ups daily and has begun fine-tuning a diet that will allow him to work toward the Paralympics. He still needs clearance from doctors to pursue his dream.
"My metabolism is crazy right now," he said. "There’s a lot of gray matter, but the bottom line is I’m still an athlete. I’m missing that action, that everyday competitive feeling. My athletic life is not over. It can't be.
"I'm still figuring things out and I realize it's a long process. It's an exciting process, a little different than picking a college and getting drafted into the NFL, though. It's a different challenge but it comes from the same foundation. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. I just have to work my way through it."