As a former Olympian, Derrick Peterson is used to hearing the roar of the crowd as he sprints around the track, but on this day he has only one spectator — and she has better things to be doing.
Athena Peterson, his three-month-old daughter whose name bears the reminder of his appearance at the 2004 Summer Olympics, sits in her little carrier car seat, watching the pole vaulters race by until the warmth of the sunshine overcomes her and she dozes off.
The scene is a glimpse into Derrick Peterson’s new world. The MU Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Famer will be participating in the 800 meters at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which start today in Indianapolis and features several MU performers.
Peterson is used to being a world-class performer. Now, his job is bit different as he tries to be a world-class father while balancing his track commitments. He said that the first few weeks with a baby slowed his training down, but little Athena has “been a blessing” and seems to have adopted his sleep schedule lately.
“It’s like she knows daddy has to do well,” said Peterson, a 2000 MU grad. “I’m not as young as I was, and now rest is as much a part of training as practice.”
Peterson, whose first race at the meet is Thursday, last competed June 2 at the Reebok Grand Prix, where he recorded a time of 1 minute, 48.01 seconds. The mark that qualified him for a ninth entry into the championships (1:46.69) came last July in Belgium.
For now, his biggest career goal is making the 2008 Olympic Team. But as a father he wants to make sure Athena feels loved and is happy. Does he think a future Olympic Games could feature Athena Peterson on its track? Perhaps, but Peterson and his wife Liz will not make that decision for little Athena.
“We hope she has strong genes from both our families,” he says with a smile. “If she wants to run, we’ll support her in whatever she wants to do, but we won’t push her into anything.”
Seven current MU students, and five former students, will also participate in the championships, which consists of both a junior and senior meet. Top finishers in the senior meet will continue on to the IAAF World Championships and the top finishers in the USA junior meet will continue their season at the Pan-America Junior Games.
Events start today with the junior championships. Current MU students include freshman Nick Adcock of Kansas City in the men’s junior decathlon, freshman Lauren Begany in the women’s junior heptathlon and freshman Lindsey Boldt competing in both the women’s junior heptathlon and women’s junior javelin.
The games continue through June 24 with the men and women starting competition Thursday. MU senior Marcus Mayes will compete in the men’s 800, junior Jason Morris will compete in the men’s hammer throw and junior Trisa Nickoley will run the women’s 800. MU graduates competing include Christian Cantwell, Fiona Asigbee, Derrick Peterson, Neville Miller, Amanda Bales and Timothy Dunne.
Morris has earned provisional-entry status.