By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Chip Peterson is finally at peace with the very real possibility of never competing at the Olympics.
More than a decade ago when he won gold in the 10K at the World Aquatic Championships, that was a thought that didn’t cross his mind.
But with the end of his swimming career coming soon – most likely next year – Peterson said perspective has overtaken disappointment, and he’s ready to just enjoy the experience, make lots of memories and appreciate all that swimming has given and continues to give him.
“I didn’t qualify (for the Olympics) in open water (at last year’s U.S. Open Water National Championships), but I still plan to compete this summer at Olympic Trials, although I don’t really have a great shot considering how deep our freestyle distance swimmers are,” Peterson said.
“But I really feel at peace with life, swimming and the future right now. I’ve been through a lot over the past few years, mostly with my health. Now, that’s under control, and I’m enjoying swimming and racing again.”
Peterson joins a loaded field of athletes this weekend in Austin, Texas, for the Arena Pro Swim Series – only his second pool meet in quite a while (he also competed in December at the Oklahoma Pro Am).
It’s yet another step toward seeing where he is against top-notch competition in the pool as he continues his journey to Olympic Trials in Omaha this summer.
“I definitely have some nerves (this weekend), mostly because (unlike open water) I don’t need to pack a bag with a full body suit, scissors, Vaseline, etc. to be prepared,” he said. “I just need to show up on deck and be prepared to swim fast.
“I see this as an opportunity to get back into the routine of pool swimming, work on some speed and gauge where I am. I’m excited to see how I’m swimming.”
And while Peterson is looking ahead to Olympic Trials and potentially making the 2016 Rio Team in the pool, he hasn’t stopped competing in open water.
This year, he’s planning to swim 10K events on the World Cup circuit throughout the world while he continues to get ready for Omaha.
Beyond this year, he’s already mapping out next year and his future outside of swimming. He wants to compete to make next year’s World Championship team in open water, and if that doesn’t happen, he will most likely call it a career.
He’s currently “buckling down to study” for his Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) this year, and then he’ll apply to medical schools to start most likely in the fall of 2017.
He’s undecided about his area of specialization, but he’s leaning toward family practice or sports medicine with a family practice emphasis.
Peterson said his motivation and desire to practice medicine stems largely from the prolonged series of health issues he’s had over the past 5 years.
The problems began in 2007 when he learned he suffered from ulcerative colitis – abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and blood loss so severe at times that he had to receive intravenous fluids and take medication to alleviate it.
Despite winning the 2010 Pan Pacific 10K title, the flare-ups from the disease became more frequent and painful. He retired in 2011 convinced he would never fully recover and return to the pain-free life he once enjoyed.
After suffering through on-and-off over the past few years, he underwent surgery in the fall of 2013 to remove his colon – basically eliminating the organ that caused most of his symptoms and problems – and returned to the water in January 2014.
“It’s really nice to train and compete now without having to worry about a flare-up or debilitating pain; it’s been a tremendous relief,” said Peterson, who graduated from the University of North Carolina originally intending to work in marine biology like his father.
“The surgery was at the recommendation of my doctors, and I could have said no and deal with symptoms. But I had reached a point where I’d exhausted available treatments. This seemed like the right choice to me, and it’s made a world of difference.”
It’s also made a difference in his swimming results. Last summer at the Pan American Games, he led a 1-2 American finish in the 10K open water competition – his first open water victory since Pan Pacs five years earlier.
And with his health restored and his future plans in the works, Peterson said he is now swimming for much different reasons than he was 10 years ago.
Now, because of everything he’s endured and the very real possibility at one time that he might never swim and compete again, he’s swimming – and living – with a very peaceful perspective.
“I enjoy swimming again – and especially racing,” he said. “I’m very happy, I bought a house last year and I’m at a spot in my life where I feel much more at peace with everything. It wasn’t long ago that I doubted I could ever feel like this because of my health, and now, it’s all about the experience.
“I’d still love to make the Olympic team this year, but I know it’s a longshot, so I’m just enjoying my time in the water, the different places I get to visit and the amazing group of friends I’ve made because of the sport. It’s really comforting to have a game plan for what’s next in my life.