Down but not out

LCC track star rebounds, inspires

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A lot of people have asked Josh Peterson why he calls this his comeback season. After all, he is not recovering from a sports injury, which is what most people think about when they hear “comeback season.” He was almost homeless, suffered from depression and has a degenerative eye condition; the story behind Peterson’s comeback is one about resilience.

Peterson is a vibrant 20-year-old with his entire life ahead of him. Be that as it may, he has glaucoma. He had to have an eye implant in his left eye, and he was born with congenital cataracts, which his doctors have told him is a condition which will more than likely cost him his vision by the time he is 25. He can see well enough without glasses, but he has special glasses for sports performance. He hasn’t let that let it get in the way of his aspirations.

“I’ve worked so hard to be where I am. I have so much support right now,” Peterson said. “I’m so grateful for them. Dropping out for 15 months is tough. Most people never even come back, but I am glad I was able to come back and compete. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be.”  

At the Rich Allen Classic, hosted by George Fox University in Newberg on March 16, Peterson ran a 51.9 in the 400m and took fifth place overall. “As a team, we had several first place finishers, a couple top marks in NWAC [NorthWest Athletic Conference], and a school record in the women’s steeplechase was broken.”

He didn’t play sports recreationally, afraid of injury due to his vision problems and size. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was in the eighth grade but was cut from the team three times because he had trouble dribbling with his left hand. In spite of his limitations, he surprised everyone by dunking the ball at a faculty/student game. This was his first “aha” moment, and he decided to do the other things that he had been too intimidated to do but always wanted to try, like cross country and eventually track and field.

In August of 2016, Peterson made the last-minute decision to attend Lane Community College and join the track team. Since everything was so last-minute, he wasn’t able to start right away and had to wait until the winter term. However, he started coming to practice and recalls fondly the sacrifice his parents had to make driving him to and from practice back and forth from Independence.

It was his old coach, Coach Grady O’Connor, who kindled his motivation to get out there by telling him that everyone has a different story and that “not everyone can do things right out of the gate.” He smiled as he recalled the words of one of his mentors.

“It made me realize we all have a different path.”

During Peterson’s first two terms, winter and spring of 2017, he qualified for the 2017 NWAC championship with a top 16 time. He was on the 4×400 meter championship relay team and placed fifth in the open 400 meter.

Like many college students, Peterson faced housing issues; he couldn’t afford his rent, which led to depression. “The depression had a huge impact in my day-to-day life for several months. I didn’t want to do anything except play video games and play basketball. I had no motivation to go to a track or to even get a job.”  

He had to drop out in the spring of 2017 as he could neither pay off his lease or get someone else to take over it. It was then that he embraced the advice that everyone has a different path, and he took a detour.

Writing became one of his passions and hearing feedback from his Instagram followers who tell him that he is very inspirational, continues to inspire him to do his best.  It made him realize that maybe he could make a comeback.

“I just wanted to go out there and do what I could.”

When he returned in the fall of 2018, the new coach, Coach Bill Steyer asked him if he was serious about coming back to the team and warned him that he would have to work much harder.

“Then when I finally did [come back], it was different.  Most people can only do things with a team, but to realize I could do it by myself is the thing I am most proud about.” He had to train by himself. He was his own motivator. All that training paid off, though, “towards the end of last year when I realized I could go somewhere with it.”

Before his return to LCC, he helped out his former high school team, and that led to an epiphany for him. Peterson wants to become a teacher or a coach, while he hasn’t fully made up his mind yet, there is one thing he knows for sure, he loves writing. He likes to stay positive and to keep a smile on his face. Not losing sight of his goals and keeping his head up along with his attitude are what kept the depression at bay during those tumultuous 15 months. “I just wanna help out kids in the future,” Peterson said.  “It makes me feel good about myself.”