A private man by nature, Peter Hledin, the founder and owner of Skater Powerboats in Douglas, Mich., hasn’t spoken publicly about his stroke in April. Though word of his health issue leaked out—for good or ill the high-performance boating community is small and close-knit—Hledin chose to keep it to himself and focus on his recovery.
But now he’s ready to talk.
“I’m feeling fine,” the 69-year-old Hledin said during a telephone interview this morning. “The biggest problem I have at this point is with my fine motor skills like writing and doing math in my head. I used to be able to calculate anything without a computer or a calculator in my head, but that’s taking some time to come back. My fine motor skills aren’t quite there yet.”
Hledin’s ordeal began when he checked into the hospital on March 12 with what he described as the flu.
“Nobody could figure out what flu it was and I got sicker and sicker and sicker,” he said. “They gave me tons of antibiotics and took a lot of blood. I had 500 holes in my right arm from taking blood—it was black and blue. I suspect that I developed a blood clot in my arm that eventually got to my brain and caused a stroke.”
Hledin lost his ability to speak and worked with a speech therapist through September. In addition to speech therapy, he went through hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy. He returned to work in June.
Though Hledin was out of the factory for a couple of months, he said, builds progressed in his absence as they always had.
“The only thing I really had to pass on was my gelcoating—I used to gelcoat all the boats, every single one,” he said. “Ironically, a little more than a year ago I had a consulting company come in and explain systems for us to better track our boat production and the time everything takes. So everyone was trained to take over and do the work for everyone else if needed. The only thing I am here to do is troubleshoot, and I guess raise hell.
“But I don’t need to work on the boats themselves—I am not integral to the manufacturing process,” he continued. “I get ideas. I have plenty of people who know what to do. My job is to get them to think on their own.”
That subject—independent thought, creativity and the products that comes from them—is never far from Hledin’s mind. He remains outspoken on the topic.
“I see copies of Skaters out there all the time,” he said. “All the advances I made are already copied. They don’t know why they’re copying, but they copy anyway. If a Skater is a success, it gets knocked off. It’s easier, I guess, than designing your own product.”
Hledin paused and sighed. “But then again, what can you do?” he said.
Though he begins his work days a little later than his traditional zero-dark-thirty start time, Hledin still puts in 45 hours a week at his company.
“Since I’ve been back, we’ve been working on our new 55 a new 32 and a new 29,” he said. “We are not slacking off. We’re still making new models based on our own designs.”