The Giver

Jan. 28, 2014

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - It is perhaps the most tired, banal cliché in sports - giving 110 percent. But if there was ever a Knight that exemplified this mathematically impossible calculation, UCF sprinter Christal Peterson might live up to it.

She gives her all in the classroom - so much so that she is a two-time all-conference honor roll member and was singled out as the UCF athletic department's scholar-athlete of the month earlier this year.

She gives her all on the track - so much so that she qualified for the 200-meter finals on a blown-out knee at the 2013 conference indoor championships.

And she gives her all to her community - her favorite way to spend free time - so much so that she earned the UCF athletic department's PRIDE Award of the month in January, bestowed to those who go the extra step in both personal and professional development along with community outreach efforts.

"I just like to help out. I would give anybody the shirt off my back," said Peterson, who is often the first to sign up for a volunteer opportunity. "I just want to help people because you don't know what kind of battles people are dealing with each and every day. If you can be that one glimmer of hope for them, put a smile on their face, you could change somebody's whole world."

It's hard not to like Peterson. The redshirt sophomore usually has a smile on her face and her upbeat personality is contagious. She was the first to welcome newly appointed head track and field coach Jeanette Bolden with a hug on her first visit to campus in April.

Her spirit is hard to break, which is why she is ready to show what she can do on the track once again.

Peterson had a respected rookie season for the Knights in 2012, qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championship East Preliminaries and competing at the USA Junior Championships in the 100 meters. She was ready to help UCF on its journey to a top finish at the NCAA Championships a year later, but fate had other plans.

Peterson battled a nagging feeling in her knee for much of the 2013 indoor season. It finally hit its breaking point at the conference championships.

As she cleared the curve in the 200-meter preliminaries, she felt acute pain but motivated herself by thinking repeatedly "just make it through." The moment she crossed the finish line, qualifying for the finals one-hundredth of a second off her personal record, she felt the knee pull and collapsed.

"I just thought, `Why now? I made it to conference. I qualified in my race, why?'" Peterson said.

When she tried to get up, she couldn't. She was soon surrounded by several members of her team and UCF's coaching and training staff.

"What really touched my heart was my teammates, who were getting ready for their race, came and carried me off the track," Peterson said. "It was nice to see them coming straight for me."

She missed the outdoor season while rehabbing the strain in her knee that developed from patella tendinopathy, the same injury that sidelined All-America hurdler Sandy Jean during the 2012 season. Peterson leaned on her teammate for support and advice.

"For Sandy to come back and do what she did - make it to nationals, break the conference and school records, that was amazing," Peterson said of Jean's success one year after her injury. "She told me things I already knew: that it takes time. I have to be patient. And that's one thing I know I have - patience, especially for track and field. It's a give-and-take type of sport. One day you're on the top of your game, just doing what you have to do. And then next day you can have one bad race and be at your lowest point. You have to be patient and just continue working hard."

Peterson has done just that, making her return to the track earlier than expected at UCF's first meet of the season Jan. 17. She didn't break any records or win the race, but it was big first step in a comeback year.

She has a determined focus as she discusses her goals for the year. She wants to make it through the season healthy, improve with every race and, of course, pick up some medals along the way.

"I think I deserve that. I've worked so hard and I just want to share it with some of my teammates who have been on the podium many times," Peterson said. "All the other sports have been dominating in the American Athletic Conference. I can't wait for track and field to get our shot at it."

Peterson's experience has her thinking about a career in the health field. She is on the pre-clinical track of her health sciences major. After a summer course in anatomy helped her understand her injury better, it should come as no surprise that her giving spirit piqued.

"Maybe I can do something with anatomy and help other athletes who are going through injuries, as well," Peterson said.



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