KP athlete learns life lessons, kickstarts new training career

Scott Turner During an impromptu photo shoot, professional triathlete Jillian Peterson is interrupted by her dogs Ripley, left, and Jack. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

For Jillian Petersen, life has almost always been about competitive sports.

The 32-year-old Lake Minterwood resident started swimming when she was just 9 years old. In middle school, she started long distance running and after graduating from college, she got into competitive cycling.

“I have always wanted to be faster so I could beat all the other girls,”Petersen said.

“When I started swimming, I did races all year and swam several times a day.”

In middle school, her mother, Donna Brocken-Petersen, suggested that Jillian try cross-country running. “I didn’t want to do that because I thought it meant running across the country,”Jillian said with a laugh.

During her second running practice, she had appendicitis. “My coach called me when I was in the hospital and said I maybe shouldn’t run that year,”she recalled.

“That made me mad so I decided to really get into running.”

By the time she was in high school, Petersen was running cross-country and swimming competitively. “I always set my own goals,” she said. “I decided I wanted to run five-minute miles and I got 5:07 in high school.”

That earned her a running scholarship at the University of Missouri, where she majored in nutrition and fitness. “It was a mixture of dietetics and PT and exercise classes,”she said.

In 2005, after graduating from U of M, she didn’t know what to do next so she signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

Her goal was to run a seven-minute pace or finish in three hours. “I ran it in 3:03 ––exactly a seven-minute pace,”she said.

That Christmas, her dad got her a road bike. “He had looked at some research and found out that this girl named Sara Haskins, who had always been my rival and my inspiration, was doing triathlons.

“I said, ‘That’s not fair. She’s good at everything and if she can do it, I can do it.’Today she’s a good friend of mine.”

Petersen started doing triathlons in 2006 in her age group.

“The hardest thing to pick up in triathlons is swimming if you haven’t done it before,”she said.

“I really didn’t know anything about triathlons, so in 2007 I went to a training camp in Chula Vista, California, and received two months of hard training. I learned so much,”she said.

“It sparked even more hunger in me because I could see what people were doing and how they were doing it. It was a great learning experience because I hadn’t even done it for a year yet,” she said.

Later that year, she got her pro card. “To get your pro card, you have to place in the top 5-8 percent in three races where there were more than 500 participants,”she said.

In 2008 she was able to get into the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs and spent the next four years there.

“I didn’t make any money but the training and living at the OTC was free and the USA team paid for me to go to OTC sanctioned races. They paid all my expenses, and if I won any money, I got to keep it,” she added.

She tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 but failed to make the team.

“The Olympics is all on a point system and you have to start with new points every year and run in Olympic-sanctioned races to get points,” she explained. Every country gets an allotted number of spots. Only eight countries in the world, including the United States, get three spots.

“You have to have five U.S. athletes ranked in the top 50 in the world, but only three get to go to the Olympics. But you have to have five people qualified.

“I was one of those five. If I hadn’t been there, we would have only had two slots,”she said.

She “did horrible”at the trials. 

“I was pretty heartbroken, but after the trials I went to a non sanctioned race and the announcer said, ‘Julian Petersen is one of the top five women in the U.S. who helped us get three Americans to the Olympic games.’That made me feel a lot better,”she said.

Competing for the Olympics also gave her a chance to meet other athletes, including para-athletes in wheelchairs and blind athletes. “I learned there’s no excuses for anybody. You can always do something to better your situation,”she said.

In 2012, after failing to make the Olympic team, she went back home to St. Louis to live with her family. She was planning to do non drafting cycle races to try to make money when she met her boyfriend, Jeff Elliott, who soon got a job in Washington as manager of his employer’s northwest territory. She and Elliott moved to Washington and settled on the Key Peninsula.

Currently, Peterson is a member of the Maverick Multisport team, based in Kentucky. She races whenever and wherever she can and promotes the products of team sponsors.

She recently earned her American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certification and is now a certified personal trainer, and is looking for a job where she can teach spinning, TRX and other fitness activities.

She’s also looking for clients for her own Roadrunner Fitness business. “I think being active at a young age is huge. It teaches kids to do better in a lot of other things and it’s a great way for kids to get some socialization,”she said.

And, quoting a poster she has on her wall, she added, “Challenges are interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

For information about personal training, visit Jillian Peterson Triathlete on Facebook or contact RoadrunnerJP on Twitter.