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Elite Runner Petersen Comfortable She Took Road Less Traveled

Distance standout doesn't regret leaving Carlmont High track to train as an independent; Syracuse-bound senior can only watch as athletes chase state medals this weekend.

This is pretty much the only time of year that Jessie Petersen misses high school track. With the Central Coast Section championships last week and the California Interscholastic Federation championships this weekend, the Carlmont High senior knows that she could be running against the top high school runners in the state and contending for a state title in the 3,200 meters.

“It's definitely something that's on my mind,” she says. “CCS last week I was thinking about it. This is the part of the season it hits me harder.”

That's not to say she thinks it was a bad idea to forgo the high school track season as a junior and senior.

“It's sad but at the same time I do not regret my decision to (not) run on the Carlmont team,” she says. “It is a disappointment that I can't run in state but it doesn't make me regret my decision.”

Petersen has taken the path less traveled the past two springs. The two-time CCS champion in the 3,200 lost out on the chance to become one of the few runners to take a section title four times, deciding instead to compete as an unattached runner while training with the RF-United Running Club. She says the decision was easy but what led up to it was quite difficult.

Jeff Gilkey was the distance coach at Carlmont, leading a successful group of runners including Petersen. In the fall of 2009, Gilkey was caught entering an ineligible runner at a high school meet. Eventually, Gilkey was fired and new coaches were brought in.

However, many of the runners, including Petersen, continued to train with Gilkey. That led to school officials demanding that they stop working with outside coaches. Runners were required to sign a contract promising that they wouldn't do so under the justification that teenage runners could be subject to injuries due to overtraining.

Many of those athletes declined to sign the contract and stayed with Gilkey.

Petersen hasn't looked back. She says she and her fellow former-Carlmont runners have maintained the camaraderie of a team while training.

“Almost the entire cross country team does what I do,” she says. “I have three or four girls and we all train together. The boys team, there's probably 15 of them, and they do that too. We have the sense of team.”

Among the issues in the great unknown was whether college coaches would see the runners compete. Petersen has done just fine, earning a scholarship to Syracuse.

“When I would talk to college coaches I would explain I'm not on the high school team anymore for these reasons,” she says. “Once I explained why I was missing, they understood. They saw times.”

The times have been impressive. At the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, Petersen ran the 5,000 in 16 minutes, 51.71 seconds. At the San Francisco State Distance Carnival in March, she tried the 3,000 steeplechase, finishing in 10:53.69. She will get the chance to run against several top high school runners on June 11 when she competes in the Golden West Invitational at Folsom High School.

“This is my second season doing it so it’s kind of become the norm for me,” she says. “I remember last season, it was quite a bit more pressure in the few meets. I do remember going to Mt. SAC and feeling a lot of pressure and going to Golden West and feeling a lot of pressure.”

After Golden West, Petersen plans to take a little break. But come July, she'll be heading to Syracuse to begin training with her new teammates and enroll in summer school. She plans to study physical therapy but isn't sure what direction she may take with that.

But she's sure she made the right decision about leaving high school track. Even though it may have cost her a medal this weekend.

jr June 04, 2011 at 03:57 PM
I am very familiar with the situation between Carlmont and the former coach. The reason stated in the article is inaccurate. Coach Gilkey was a coach who was very passionate for running. He spent a lot of his free time training the runners and wanted the best for all of them. It was disappointing to hear that he lost his job for entering an ineligible runner in a race, but school administrators brought him back to give him a second chance. Within a few months, someone reported Gilkey to administrators for something he said and he lost his job for good. I clearly understand how all of the runners feel, but I believe all of them should have moved on and stayed with the Carlmont program. If the runners stayed and gave the new coaches a chance, I think they would've done very well. It's not the coach that makes you a good athlete, it's you.
GAP June 05, 2011 at 08:36 AM
Good on you Jessie, having strong principles will hold you in good stead for the rest of your life. Shame the same can't be said about the administrators of the school, who come across as petty and unsupportive of their students.
jason June 05, 2011 at 09:21 PM
opinions are great, but just some facts...there are only 3 girl athletes and maybe 7 boy athletes on rfunited and over 12 boys and 5 girl distance runners on the current carlmont team...just getting some facts straight...
GAP June 07, 2011 at 10:08 AM
we wish them all well - at least they are all out there exercising and doing something they love
CarlmontRunner August 10, 2011 at 04:36 PM
The funny thing is most of the boy distance runners on the Carlmont team this past track season ended up running for RF United this summer (and last winter as well). Looks like that great track distance program needs the RFU team to help train in all off-seasons and then tries to take credit for any sucess saying "we could have done this the entire time." Dilley - you are always kissing Coach Gilkey's butt when you see him at meets, why not have the guts to say something then? No one ever forced the kids to run for him and you forget the distance runners did try to run track in 2010 but one by one were kicked off the team over a period of 4 weeks. You get your facts straight. When Gilkey was at Carlmont they qualified over 20 each year to CCS. The sad thing is you can't beat Carlmont without the great distance team - you should thank Gilkey for giving the rest of you guys a chance.

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