Two-time Olympian aerial skier Jaret Peterson reflects, rebuilds

Updated: January 27, 2008, 1:57 PM ET
Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- Jeret Peterson knows hard work is not always rewarded, that the hours spent honing a craft and perfecting a skill can be done in by a gust of wind, an unbalanced landing or an unforgiving judge.

So when Peterson, a two-time Olympic aerial skier from Boise, is not on the slopes, he prefers something far more tangible: construction.

"It's a direct reflection of how much work you've put in. You can see the results of your hard work," Peterson said. "In skiing, you put in a ton of effort just to make what seems like a little bit of progress. Whereas doing construction, every hour of work, you can stop and say, 'Wow, I did that."

Peterson, a 26-year-old Timberline High graduate who is skipping this season of competition, returned to Boise several months ago and is doing construction projects with a high school friend. He's always looking for work.

If it seems like odd preparation for another Olympic run, it is. But Peterson has never followed any normal path. "Normal" being a subjective word in a sport that requires its competitors to strap on skis, fly more than 50 feet skyward and flip upside down.

"You've got to be a little crazy to do aerials anyway," Peterson said.

A little reckless doesn't hurt, either.

Peterson, who has been focusing on aerials since he was 14 and a regular at Bogus Basin, displayed that quality at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy. In third place entering the final jump of the competition, many felt Peterson just needed a solid effort to capture a medal, even gold.

Peterson, instead, went for his signature "Hurricane," a five-twist, three-flip move that carries the sport's highest degree of difficulty. He didn't stick the landing and finished seventh.

There are no regrets. Not then. Definitely not now.

"I am much more satisfied knowing that I went for it and ended up seventh than I would have been if I would have not gone for it and ended up first or second; that would have been the worst," said Peterson, who finished ninth in his Olympic debut at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

"The reason that I say that is, I would always wonder what if? What if I tried it? And now I know. I know exactly how I would have done if I would have tried the Hurricane because I did. There's nothing wrong with ending up seventh at the Olympics," he said.

It's what happened next that some people have a bigger problem with. After his competition, Peterson and a dozen or so friends and family members went out partying. Fueled by alcohol, Peterson and best friend Mason Fuller ended up in a scuffle that attracted police and media attention. U.S. officials sent Peterson home from the Games.

Again, there are few regrets.

"I do feel bad about (it.) I didn't mean to disgrace my country in that way. But it was a huge learning lesson for me. For that lesson, I don't regret what happened," said Peterson, who remains close with Fuller.

"If other people are unable to forgive me for something that I've done, then I don't really need that energy in my life. I've been trying to be a good person and get everything organized."

That's been Peterson's goal since that night in Italy.

It hasn't been easy.

Peterson's life has been marked by tragedy. When he was 5, his sister was killed by a drunken driver. In 2003, he disclosed that he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. In 2005, a friend committed suicide in front of him.

Since Italy, Peterson has stopped drinking.

"I had to. I was headed down the wrong path and I just needed to kind of pull back the reins and say, 'What am I doing with my life?' " he said. "Am I going to look back in 20 years and be proud? At that point, my answer was no."

Years of counseling have resulted in several major breakthroughs for Peterson, who said he has battled depression for a long time.

"I'm learning to love myself. It's something that has been very difficult for me. ... A lot of people are very fortunate to have the ability to love themselves right away. For me, it's been a learning process," said Peterson, who said he has struggled with being viewed as more than simply an Olympic athlete.

He knows it is difficult for others to grasp. An Olympic athlete with fame, some fortune and a winning smile. Not happy? Not able to smile? Depression, he said, is a terrible illness.

Fuller, who has been friends with Peterson since the second grade, has noticed a change in his best buddy.

"He's had a hell of a battle trying to find himself. I think he's got it. I see him being a lot happier," Fuller said.

Peterson does not disagree.

"This is the best I've felt about myself probably ever. It's a great feeling being able to look in the mirror and actually smile," Peterson said.

Now he wants to see how that will translate into his skiing career. Peterson plans on working construction in Boise until late summer before beginning preparations for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada -- his final Games, his final chance for gold.

Peterson, who dropped all of his sponsorship contracts this season, must find new sponsors. He must get back into shape. But his time away from the sport, his time doing construction in Boise, has helped him mentally get prepared.

"It just helps me rebuild the fire," Peterson said.

The flame still burns. Now Peterson, however, is better equipped to handle its intensity.

"He's always going to the limit. It's always going to be big or nothing. That's kind of the cool thing about watching him, but at the same time, that's a really stressful way for anybody to live," Fuller said.

"I don't think he realized how stressful that was until it all calmed down. That's still how he is, he's going to push the envelope on whatever he does, but he's going to realize the consequences of that and be better prepared for success or failure."

Lots of hard work remains. And fate -- in the form of a gust of wind, an unbalanced landing or an unforgiving judge -- can intervene in hundreds of ways. Some good. Some bad.

Peterson, all the wiser for the things he has seen and felt and overcome, is content with that.

"I really feel that everybody on this planet, our job is to make the best hand out of the cards that we've been dealt. Life is all about experiences and lessons," Peterson said. "I don't regret anything that I've done in my life because it's taught me invaluable lessons."

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Information from: The Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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