Duke Pieper was a hockey phenom as a youngster. The Eagan native played at hockey power Shattuck-St. Mary’s in seventh and eighth grade before making the move to Hill Murray, another perennial powerhouse. He made the varsity as a freshman and was about to play his first game … when everything changed.
Pieper felt “off” before the game, so he skated away and told his coach that “this isn’t going to happen for me tonight.” He was soon rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a cavernous hemangioma (brain bleed), and given just a 5 percent chance to survive.
Score one for the 5 percent. In the aftermath of that trauma, he had numerous surgeries and a couple months with very few memories. He battled paralysis and lingering nerve damage. But a decade later Pieper is now finishing up college at the University of Minnesota, with a hopeful eye toward the future.
If this all sounds like it could be the basis of a book, it does and it is. Pieper and a co-author penned a memoir called "I'm Alive: Courage, Hope, and a Miracle.” In it he describes his ordeal and his long journey toward normalcy. In person, he enthusiastically provides an update, and he’s effusive in crediting the U of M with helping him to thrive as a student.
“The University of Minnesota has had so many things to offer and help me out moving forward,” he says. “I truthfully believe if it wasn’t for the U and the people here, I wouldn’t be able to make it all happen.” He’s especially grateful for the Disability Resource Center “and how accommodating they’ve been in making me feel at home.”
Pieper has adapted nicely to life as an ordinary student with an extraordinary backstory, and has goals beyond scoring goals. The sport management major is looking to attend graduate school and find a career “in the realm of sports,” he says. “That’s what I know. That’s what I love.” He’d love to learn to fly, as well, and best not to count him out on that one.
He hopes his book continues to be an inspiration to others who struggle with challenges great or small, and he caps it with some “Strategies for Survival,” adages that include mind over matter, nothing is out of reach, and look around.
“If you take a second and look around, you’ll notice so many other people out there have it so much worse than you do,” he says. “Take everything day by day, and if something doesn’t go your way, don’t let it bother you too much.”