The Doc Project

Why this Yukon man earned the moniker 'Centipede' in the world of medieval combat

Faced with a leg amputation barely into his 20s, Yukoner Steve Pearson has had more than his share of challenges. But he's ready to prove that those very same challenges have primed him for medieval combat on the world stage.

Being an amputee means Steve Pearson has even more to prove for Yukon's Company of the White Wolf, and himself

Steve Pearson at the International Medieval Combat Federation (IMCF) World Championships in Scotland. (Caroline Walsh)
Listen27:30

For the last few years, Steve Pearson has been training hard in the ranks of a not-so-secret society of Yukon warriors.

He comes across as just a regular, 27-year-old Yukon guy, but he's been met with enough tests of mettle and physical endurance so far in life to pass any bar for medieval knighthood.

Every week, Pearson can be found training with the Company of the White Wolf, a group of men and women who get together and train in the sport of full contact medieval fighting. 

In the dead of winter — when it's –45 C and the sun barely makes even the weakest of appearances — Pearson and his fellow fighters battle it out, carting around 80 pounds of steel and titanium armour, using only period materials like leather, wool or horsehair, and wielding massive, blunted steel swords, pole arms and battle axes.

Medieval combat is a global sport; we take a look at one team in the Yukon. 1:00

Surgeries and setbacks

Pearson has always been active. Throughout his childhood, his parents got him involved in judo, taekwondo, and eventually even Wing Chun — a style of kung fu — and Systema — a Russian martial art. But he was in and out of the hospital, too.

He was born with a short femur. His first surgery was when he was just two years old. He'd eventually have 26 surgeries done to lengthen his right leg.

It kind of fascinated me that it was fencing and it was considered a martial art.- Steve Pearson

As an older teen, Pearson dreamed of joining the military. And that was the plan, until the end of high school. That's when his hip wore out.

He went through another surgery, but something went wrong. Eventually, there were only two options available to him: fusing the leg straight or amputation.

"At this point, I just wanted it to be fixed and I wanted to move on with life," said Pearson. "So I told them to go ahead with the amputation."

Steve Pearson (left) at outdoor practice. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

Though it was a hard adjustment at first, Pearson adapted quickly. And around three years ago, Pearson discovered the White Wolves through a friend.

"It kind of fascinated me that it was fencing and it was considered a martial art," he said.

Beware the 'centipede'

Though the medieval armour was a new touch, Pearson's martial arts background made him a natural. He could move faster and more intentionally than most other fighters, even with his prosthetic leg.

"I think the first time I was in armour we were in an elementary school gym, and I remember it was exciting," he said. 

"I was nervous and the armour was extremely heavy. It was a lot heavier than I had anticipated. And when that helmet goes over and you're looking through a tiny little hole, you are fighting this claustrophobic feeling."

The White Wolves' wall of practice weaponry. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

Other competitors picked up on his strength immediately. At his first-ever tournament in Montreal, he noticed they were calling him a name in French —  "centipede."

Pearson was told because "I have one leg but it doesn't matter which way I'm pushed or pulled, I always seem to have a leg to put on the ground."

Fighters and friends

That all led up to this year at the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships on the grounds of an actual castle in Scotland. Pearson finally felt ready. But there was a problem — money. And that's where a fellow White Wolf stepped in to help. 

Pearson started training Aurora Bicudo when she joined the White Wolves, and the two formed a friendship. And when Pearson told her he wasn't going to the World Championships, she started a GoFundMe account for him. 

Then, for the first time, Pearson qualified to be part of Team Canada. With funds from the successful GoFundMe, he was going to Scotland.

Steve Pearson shows off his Team Canada tunic. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

Hitting the big time

Pearson's hope going to the World Championships was making it out of the starting pool where all competitors are able to fight. Indeed, he fought his way out of his pool, past the quarter-finals, and nearly out of the semifinals.

In the end, Pearson lost by just a few points in the third round of the semifinals to a fighter from Poland, gaining a fan base with every match.

Steve Pearson [right] wins his longsword bout against Team China. (Pavlina Sudrich)

Pearson, the longsword fighter from Yukon, finished fourth in the world. And he's already thinking ahead to next year's battle.


Listen to the documentary by clicking the Listen link at the top of this page. Or download and subscribe to our podcast so you never miss a show.


About the Producer

Alexandra Byers (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC)
Alexandra Byers is a reporter for CBC North in Whitehorse. She got her start at the CBC's investigative unit in Toronto, where she was part of the team that won a Canadian Screen Award for their investigation into a Canadian billionaire's Mafia connections. She then worked as a video producer for CBC Music and a writer and a breaking news producer for CBC News Network. From Toronto she moved to Uganda, where she spent six months as a freelance journalist and video producer. She now covers stories from across Yukon and northern British Columbia. Her beats include long-lost plane wrecks, TV tower vandals and, of course, medieval combat. You can follow her on Twitter @alexandra_byers.

This documentary was edited by Acey Rowe. 

Additional audio from world championships provided by Pavlina Sudrich.