Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 4, 1998All In A Day's Run
By Kathi Stearns
ATLANTA--Its 3:35 p.m. Jeanne Peterson adjusts her sunglasses, tightens her shoelaces and prepares for a 10K run after completing her day of teaching physical education at Christ the King School.
She swallows a gulp of Gatorade, mentally lays out her course and figures the approximate time it will take to own it. Considered the countrys best shot for a medal in the 2000 Olympics, she attributes success to consistent training, wanting to do well and a little natural ability, all of which she hopes to pass on to her students.
As she begins to loosen up on the school grounds she is approached by several of her students who ask if they can run with her. She smiles, I may run fast today, but you can try to stay with me, she says as she starts her race watch and kicks off on her run. A few of the eighth-grade boys try to keep stride with her, but she reminds them, I need to work on my speed today. And she presses on.
One by one they drop out, unable to keep up with their teacher, training for the 1999 Olympic Marathon trials in Columbia, S.C. They are left in her dust, shaking their heads at the realization they are no different than most of the runners who pace against her.
For a girl she can really run, says one of the boys. He watched his teacher tackle the road nicknamed Cardiac Hill without breaking a sweat during the annual Peachtree Road Race last July. During the race they play the music to Rocky to give the runners an extra oomph, to help them make it up that hill. But Ms. Peterson doesnt need any extra help, he says, gasping for breath from trying to stay with her on the practice run.
The Olympic hopeful would disagree. When I hit that 25th mile, my feet are full of blisters and Im dehydrated and physically and psychologically exhausted, she confessed in an interview before the practice run.
There is really only one thing that helps me get to the finish line, and that is God. I usually say to him, I know I wont finish this race without you, so let's just do it, the Nike-sponsored Olympic hopeful said.
Peterson, 20, a parishioner of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, has been running nearly half her life. She started running cross country as a seventh grader. When the coach needed some more runners to field a cross country team, I started running because I was a body who could complete the three-mile course, she said.
The fifth child in a family of seven and sister to fraternal twin Karen, Peterson caught the eye of college scouts when as a high school sophomore she recorded the fastest time in the nation for the 2-mile run--10:31. The national record still stands as one of the fastest times for the 2-mile run by a sophomore.
During this time, I was really encouraged to become a better runner, she said. As I improved, I began to realize that this was a way I could go to college on scholarship. Because of the number of kids in my family, there was no way my parents could afford to send all of us to a good school.
She accepted a scholarship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she ran cross country, indoor track and track and field. She graduated with a bachelors degree in physical education in l991.
I have always enjoyed the idea of teaching children about physical education, she said. This job allows me to teach my students about the importance of maintaining their fitness level throughout their life.
Within this faith environment, I am also allowed to stress the importance of the athletic gifts God has shared with each of my students, she said. Each of us has been given different gifts and when we receive such a gift from God it is our responsibility to develop and nurture it. It is not something we should take for granted.
She says she uses some of the same principles that have made her a sucessful runner in the classroom. I give my students goals and we conquer them together, she said. I also try to instill a sense of discipline in them. To achieve your goal you often must sacrifice something and this requires discipline if you truly intend to go the distance. This is a lesson that is best to learn at a young age.
Petersons running resume is extensive even though she considers herself a novice with only four marathon races under her belt. In her first 26 mile race, the 1995 Philadelphia Marathon, she finished first with a time of 2:39:44.
In February l996, she finished seventh in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Columbia, S.C. She was the youngest runner in the top 10 with a time of 2:35:19. In November of that same year, she finished the New York Marathon in ninth place with a time of 2:38:01. In February l997, she again competed in the Olympic Trials in Columbia and was one of the top four finishers, qualifying for the World Track and Field Championships in Athens, Greece in August 1997. There she was the third American to finish.
I dont really view these things as big accomplishments, she said. I really think hard work and success have come about because of my love for the sport.
The key elements in being a successful marathon runner are consistency, dedication and a strong heart, she said. To compete at this level, I have to run about 70 miles a week. Twice a week Ill get up at 5 a.m. to run about an hour to an hour and a half, about 10-15 miles.
But most of the time, because of my job, Ill hit the roads after school. It is difficult to focus on training while working regular hours. The majority of my competitors aren't trying to hold a job while they train. Its quite challenging, she admitted.
She finishes her afternoon run in less than 34 minutes and the students who started out with her are still in the parking lot. They cheer as she comes into view. She stops near them, hands on knees trying to catch her breath. One of the students comes alongside.
Now I can take you, he challenges. And back to the streets of Atlanta Peterson goes, a new energy in her pace as she enthusiastically takes on yet another eager competitor.