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YSU’s Peterson to take on the best in Eugene

Submitted photo / James Nedrich / Youngstown State YSU Fifth year senior Sean Peterson competes at the NCAA Nationals in Eugene, Oregon earlier in the month. Today, he’ll compete in the USA Track & Field National Championship.

Penguins may be flightless birds in the wild, but fifth-year senior Sean Peterson has been piling up the frequent flier miles as of late — with results to show for it.

He may have been the first distance runner in Youngstown State history to qualify for the NCAA Championship meet, but Peterson finds himself on a whole new playing field this evening.

It won’t be easy, but he’s ready to square off against pros and some of the best that the country has to offer in the Toyota USATF National Championship, with a spot on the United States National Team on the line this evening during the third heat of the 1500-meter race in Eugene.

Peterson is comfortable competing at Oregon’s state of the art Hayward Field. This week will mark his third trip to Eugene in two months.

“This has by far been my longest season, it has almost felt like three seasons within one. It’s all about taking it day by day and just trying to not get too ahead of myself because I tend to do that a lot,” Peterson said.

Back in late April, a time of 3:40.33 broke theYSU record and punched his ticket into the regional round. Then, trimming that down to 3.39.92 in Bloomington, Indiana allowed himself to move on to nationals, where he placed 22nd overall.

Ever since junior high there has always been some glimpse of hope for the native of Middleburg Heights but it’s been a long trek for the middle distance runner who never even qualified for states in high school as an individual.

He was a member of a Berea-Midpark High School’s 4×800 relay team that punched a ticket to Columbus; however, even several years ago, YSU head coach Brian Gorby knew that was potential.

“That’s when we saw him, we recruited him off of the first leg in the 4×800,” Gorby said. “I saw him and I’m like he’s tall, he’s got range. He had lots of injuries back then and he had quite a few with us, but we had the ultra G, which is a weightless treadmill, and a lot of things. It’s an amazing feat to now be one of the final 30 milers in the country.

“Sean had basically chipped away methodically over a four-year period and chipped off 20 seconds, there was never a five-ten second drop, it was always his tenacity and his mindset.”

Distance coach Eric Rupe saw the prospective and naturally gifted ability back in Peterson’s freshman year.

“His innate ability to run a race and be instinctual about it when he gets to the line has really set him apart,” Rupe said. “Putting himself where he doesn’t get boxed in in races, staying on the outside so he can move up when he wants to and not responding to what everyone else is doing. Just his god-given speed and being able go from a fast pace to a really fast pace in the last 150 meters and making those shifts.”

During the winter, he became one of the first college runners in Division I history to win an event five times in the 800 meters as he was given the opportunity after taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted athletes that competed in the 2020-2021 season.

There was lost time with his 2020 outseason being eliminated, but as Peterson reflects on the YSU Male Athlete of Year awards and other Horizon League honors that he’s acquired, the opportunity to represent America as a track athlete is finally a possibility.

“It’s something you always dream about throughout my years, and in college, it felt like less and less of a dream and something that was something that was very achievable and could have been a reality. So, I feel like I’ve been able to adjust to that mentally,” Peterson explained.

Following a five-year mission, Peterson will don the red and white one final time, but when there’s so many miles under your legs, sometimes a change is in order — track and field athletes more than anyone can be especially superstitious.

Maybe there’s luck to be found in a new hairstyle with a blonde look?

“I kinda was thinking about it before conference, I think I wanted to dye my hair this summer,” Peterson said with a laugh. “In the spur of the moment, I was feeling good after regionals, so I kinda decided to do it. Not sure a whole lot of good luck has happened since then, but we’ll try to reverse that (tonight).”

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