Lieutenant Commander Pete Reed OBE: Notes on resilience

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Man in wheelchair on woodland path

There’s no better grounding for the gruelling realities of spinal stroke rehabilitation than naval discipline and Olympic determination.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, Pete’s early career gave him incredible transferrable skills that would be crucial in dealing with what life had to throw at him.

Triple olympic champion rower

In his second year studying Engineering at UWE Bristol, Pete learnt how to row. He soon developed a passion for the sport and went on to be part of Oxford University’s Boat Club and to build on his rowing prowess.

Pete earned gold in the Men’s Coxless Four at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and then a gold medal again in the Men’s Eight at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He has also won five gold medals and three silver medals at the World Championships.

At almost twice the normal average, Pete has the world’s largest recorded lung capacity of 11.68 litres.

He was physically built for rowing, but it was the mental mindset, the never-give-up attitude that he would need most when his life changed radically.

Spinal stroke

On September 7, 2019 Pete had a spinal stroke. On that day he lost the use of all the muscles below his chest.

Because of the magnitude of the injury, he’ll be a wheelchair user for life.  He’ll have to manage all of the complexities which spinal cord injuries present. There’s a huge loss of all the bodily functions which everyone takes for granted.

Despite this crushing new reality, Pete is approaching his rehabilitation with positivity and complete dedication. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever walk again, but he does know that the next two years are critical in re-establishing his neural pathways and securing the best outcome.

His new goal demands infinite motivation and unrelenting determination, skills he honed in both his naval and elite sporting careers. He is chipping away, one day at a time, not fearing failure and embracing the new challenges. He’s as committed to his rehabilitation as he was to his athlete’s training. And he gets as much satisfaction from it too.

The next chapter

Pete retired from rowing in 2018 to get back to his Naval career. He remains a committed public servant. Right now, he’s focussed on his rehabilitation – it’s a full-time project. He’s not sure what the future holds, but he’d like to use his experience to help others enduring hardship to build resilience whilst continuing in public service.

As he says in his Twitter profile,

Made in the Royal Navy. Raised at the Olympics. On a roll.


  • Pete Reed studied BEng in Mechanical Engineering at UWE Bristol, completing his course in 2003.
  • He gained an MBE in 2009 and OBE in 2017.

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