The Real MVP: Brian Peterson Giving Back

March 15, 2012

From November to March, junior Brian Peterson competes on the third-ranked Gophers wrestling team. Between studying entrepreneurial management, wrestling for the Gophers, and down time with friends, there are few hours left in a day for Peterson. Still, that isn't stopping him from leading by example and giving back.

Peterson holds leadership roles in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Fellow Christian Athletes (FCA), and Athletes in Action (AIA), and he represented the Gophers at the NCAA Student Athlete Leadership Conference. He is a true example of someone who works hard, lives well, and gives back. 

The Student Athlete Advisory Committee is composed of student athletes who provide insight on the student athlete experience and offer input to the NCAA on the rules, regulations, and policies that affect student athletes' lives. Each athletic team elects two representatives. After Peterson was elected, he was subsequently nominated to be President of the Gophers' SAAC. He is joined on the executive board by Julie Rozman (Vice President, track and field), Katie Bethke (Accounting and Secretary, soccer), and Megan Smith (Maroon Madness Coordinator, cross-country and track and field).

The SAAC's focus ranges from improving student athlete welfare (for example, hiring a sports nutritionist and sports psychologist) to organizing events that give back to the community. Peterson volunteers at numerous local elementary schools. Most recently, he visited Palmer Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, where he enjoyed reading to the students and discussing the importance of health and wellness, including sharing an anti-tobacco campaign.

Peterson reaches out to the community as often as his schedule permits. He and his teammates volunteered for the Feed My Starving Children organization, packaging food to be distributed globally to children in need. Peterson emphasizes achieving self-satisfaction. In his eyes, self-satisfaction is about seeking out the greater picture in life. He finds great joy in contributing to the greater good.



In addition to volunteering his time for community projects, Peterson also makes time to support other teams within the Athletic Department. The SAAC focuses on organizing Maroon Madness events. The goal of Maroon Madness is to bring all Gopher athletes to at lease one in season sporting event per year for each team at the U of MN. The wrestling team recently organized a Maroon Madness event for the women's cross-country team. Peterson decided to "take it for the team" by upping the ante for the event. He promised his teammates that he would wear his wrestling singlet to the women's cross-country meet if, and only if, at least ten of his teammates attended with him. His teammates could not miss the opportunity to see Peterson sporting his singlet in public. To the amusement of his teammates and fans, Peterson held up his end of the deal, and took it one step further by up running in race unattached in his singlet.

Peterson and his teammates are big advocates of Gopher camaraderie. Shortly after returning from a wrestling meet in Fargo, North Dakota, the team was bombarded with ten inches of snow and a plea from the women's soccer team to help clear snow from the soccer field at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. Despite being exhausted from their weekend matches, 13 team members retrieved their own shovels and went to work. Along with the help of Minnesota's facilities staff and a gaggle of volunteers, they were able to clear the field. As a result, the women's soccer team achieved another "W," allowing them to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, Peterson could not attend due to prior scheduling, but he was proud of his teammates for helping at a time when they would have preferred to rest.

Peterson also plays a major role in leading Fellow Christian Athletes meetings every week. FCA is an organization for student athletes who share a passion for sports and Christianity, emphasizing that the two entities do not have to be separate. The FCA meetings, also called "huddles," typically attract 15-50 student athletes. At the meetings, there may be a guest speaker discussing the topic of the day, or members may mingle with other athletes, discussing their everyday trials and tribulations.

Peterson acknowledges that Gopher fans help make the wrestling program a success, and he is always looking for ways to give back to the community that supports him and the University of Minnesota Athletic Department.  Peterson and his FCA huddle recently invited Randolph High School FCA members to their meeting at the University of Minnesota. Not only was it exciting for Peterson to host such an event, but it was equally exciting for high school athletes to engage in a casual social setting with collegiate athletes. The huddle felt that the meeting of the two groups was a success and plans to reach out to more high schools throughout Minnesota.

In conjunction with FCA, Peterson is involved in AIA, another Christian advocate group. AIA is a Christian sports ministry that encourages athletes and coaches to use their roles in sports to help people around the world who have questions about faith. Peterson credits his mentor, two-time Olympic medalist John Peterson, with guiding him to be a positive and influential role model. During the summer of 2008, Peterson was the first student athlete from the University of Minnesota to participate in the Ultimate Training Camp in El Salvador and Guatemala. He shared his testimony and participated in the program's wrestling camp. The program was such a success that dozens of Gopher athletes followed in his footsteps. Peterson states that he is "very close with many of the members that I met at Ultimate Training Camp and I still see a close friend every time he visits Chicago."

Peterson's leadership and volunteer efforts have gained notice. The Athletic Department took note of Peterson's passion and character and nominated him and three other student athletes to represent the University of Minnesota at the NCAA Student Athlete Leadership Development Conference in Orlando, Florida. Once nominated, each student athlete wrote an essay on leadership and what it means to him or her. Peterson must have impressed the committee because he was the sole member selected to represent the University at the conference. He stated that the greatest piece of knowledge he gained from the conference was "In order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower. The influence you set in being a good follower will eventually lead you to become a better leader."

As hectic as his schedule is, Peterson never feels the need to cut back on his leadership duties and volunteer activities. Rather, he uses his experience to improve his prioritizing skills. When asked how he manages school, wrestling, and all his volunteering roles, Peterson responded, "It's definitely a challenge." He stated that he's "getting wiser day by day. Unfortunately, I have taken some hits, but I'm learning how to prioritize my time." Peterson's ultimate goal is to leave each organization that he joins better than when he arrived. That way, the student athletes who succeed him will be left with an organized legacy that continues to bring great success to the program and community.

When asked what motivates him to become so involved, Peterson stated, "Everybody seeks self-satisfaction. Taking a look at the bigger picture gives you a greater perspective on life. There are so many things that you can do to make an eternal impact. I want to be the best advocate." Peterson uses his influence as a role model in hopes of reaching out to kids and guiding them to stay on the right track. You know that Brian Peterson is the type of person who will make a positive impact in all his future endeavors.

Article written by athletic communications student assistant Amy Khaleel.


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