My Division II Story: Amanda Peterson

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Amanda Peterson strides across the finishing mat at the 2016 NSIC Cross Country Championships in Sioux Falls. Photo courtesy of Amanda Peterson.

Amanda Peterson chose Division II not merely for its culture, its opportunities or its high-level competition. Though these features attracted Peterson, one aspect of Division II trumped all others:

Division II promised the prevention of a fatal disease.

After a near-death anorexia nervosa diagnosis and long recovery process, Peterson needed to pick a cross country team with a healthy atmosphere. Though Peterson’s high school times screamed “Division I athlete,” she feared that the heightened competition in DI would bring back her eating disorder.

“DI is extremely competitive, and a lot of pressure is put on athletes to perform,” Peterson said. “A lot of pressure is also put on [female runners] to lose weight or be as skinny as possible. I knew being in such a cutthroat environment would make me more likely to relapse.”

Peterson’s “fight of her life” began in the summer of 2011 — merely months before Peterson’s first year at Skyview High School in Billings, Montana. Weighing only 78 pounds, Peterson was admitted to Remuda Ranch, an eating disorder rehabilitation facility. At Remuda, Peterson spoke with professionals who said that a return to competitive running was unlikely, since running triggered Peterson’s anorexia.

Peterson ran anyway.

During her freshman year, Peterson ran no more than one mile at a time. As a sophomore, Peterson slowly transitioned to competitive running. This reintroduction to competition created a paradoxical drive; Peterson simultaneously strived for fast times and less weight.

“Everyone was wary,” Peterson said. “My parents, coaches and doctors watched as I meticulously ate just enough to keep my weight below 100 pounds. I ran the most my coach would let me and put immense pressure on myself to run faster.”

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Peterson holds off a competitor in the final stretch of the 2018 Roy Griak Invitational. Photo courtesy of Amanda Peterson.

When choosing a college, Peterson wanted to further her passion for running while leaving anorexia in the past. After talking with cross country coaches Scott Tanis and Tracy Hellman, Peterson chose Augustana University: a small — yet reputable — school in Division II.

“I knew from my first meeting with Tracy and Scott that I would not just be a number to them,” Peterson said. “They explained how they keep athletes’ mileage low, so they don’t get burned out, and how they individualized training plans.”

When Peterson opened up about her eating disorder, the coaches “did not seem to even flinch.” Likewise, after Peterson gained 25 pounds during a freshman-year injury, neither Hellman nor Tanis commented on Peterson’s weight, something she is “extremely thankful for.”

“Not only would I have been embarrassed, [but] it likely would have caused me to restrict again, further impairing my healing,” Peterson said. “I can almost one hundred percent guarantee I would not still be running had I not chosen Augie.”

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Peterson hugs teammates after the 2018 Nike Heartland Regional meet.

With only one semester left, Peterson now refers to Augustana as her home. Though Peterson consistently dealt with injuries during college, her coaches always assured she’d have a place on the team.

“The amazing part was it wasn’t my performance that gave me a spot on the team,” Peterson said. “It was my willingness to put it all out there and try.”

Peterson wouldn’t change her Augustana experience for the world.

So when the university announced its decision to move to Division I, Peterson was heartbroken.

“Although this change won’t directly affect me, it will affect those that I love and care about: my teammates and my coaches,” Peterson said. “I would have liked to hope my children would someday attend Augie, or that I could take them there one day to show them where I went to school. However, I won’t want them to attend a school where money and a title are more important than values.”

In the ambiguous pre-transition period, Peterson prays that “we the students are more important than the bottom line.”

“Improvement is good, but bigger is not always better,” Peterson said. “I think if the administration wants to work for a DI school, they need to move to a DI school, not change Augie.”

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