Early mornings aren’t bad.
“Once I’m out of bed, I feel pretty good,” Amy Peterson said.
By late morning, though, she fades. Her body often pleads for a nap.
“I crash. I need to refuel,” she said. “Seven or 8 o’clock comes around, and I’m pretty much toast for the day. I have to get rest.”
It’s been that way for years.
The fatigue almost beat her, almost sapped her spirit as well as her strength. There also were the headaches and the fog that shrouded her mind so she couldn’t concentrate or put the right words together. Many times, Peterson came close to ending her career as a short-track speed skater. Many days, she didn’t know if she could handle both racing and suffering from the debilitating and incurable ailment known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
But she wanted to make it to one more Olympics, just one more.
“The last four years since Nagano have been rocky for me,” Peterson said Thursday. “A lot of days I’d say I’ve had enough. But I knew in my heart and mind if I walked away, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
Her will didn’t wither, though her body did. So here she is, back at the Olympics for a fifth time.
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She went to her first Olympics in 1988 in Calgary, back when short-track speed skating still was a demonstration event. She went to the next three Olympics, and won three medals. A silver in the relay in ’92. Two bronze in ’94. In ’98 at Nagano, just competing was an accomplishment. Two years of competition had been hijacked by her illness, so it was special just to take part.
These Olympics will be special, too, because this will be it. No more Olympics after this.
They have all been memorable, but this will, as Peterson put it, “be the topper.” She will get to do what only 17 other Americans have done at the Winter Olympics. During tonight’s opening ceremony, Peterson will walk in front of her fellow U.S. athletes and carry the U.S. flag. She was selected by the captains of the Olympic sports. Unlike downhill skier Picabo Street, who lobbied for the honor, Peterson didn’t ask to do it. She didn’t expect to do it.
“It’s not about campaigning. It’s about gaining the respect of your fellow athletes. I hope that’s why I was chosen,” said Peterson, of Maplewood. “Carrying the flag is beyond anything I thought would happen in these Games. I’m in a little disbelief. It’s the fifth and last time I’ll walk through that tunnel in the Olympics. This time caps every single one of them.”
It will be an emotionally charged evening and not just for Peterson. After the U.S. athletes make their entrance, eight U.S. Olympians and three Port Authority police officers from the New York metropolitan area will bring in the torn U.S. flag found amid the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. The flag flew above Yankee Stadium during the World Series and was honored during the Super Bowl. And now, after a skirmish with the International Olympic Committee to have it included in the opening ceremony, it’s here.
“It’s important that the flag come in simply because it’s part of each and every American,” Peterson said. “It’s part of who we are.”
A big part of who Peterson is involves her family. She plans to spend the summer with her parents, Joan and Howie, who still live in Minnesota. They’re expected to be in Rice-Eccles Stadium when their daughter walks in with the flag.
As she carries the flag, Peterson will look into the crowd, searching for her parents, hoping to share an instant with two of the most important people in her life. Even if she doesn’t make eye contact, it will be a wonderful moment for the three of them, and Peterson can’t be sure how many of those they have left. She worries about her father, who suffers from multiple system atrophy, a disease similar to Parkinson’s.
“Dad doesn’t know one day to the next if he’ll be able to walk,” Peterson said. “I know when I get up, I’ll be able to walk. How fast I don’t know.”
She knows this. She was a 16-year-old kid when she showed up in Calgary. She will leave Salt Lake City a 30-year-old woman who has seen and done and endured so much these past 14 years.
(c) 2002 Pioneer Press