Claire Petersen the eighth-grader could hardly wait to graduate, pull on the Skyline uniform and move on to high school competition. So when she completed her middle school track meets, she would venture online and compare her times to the ones high schoolers were recording, trying to find where she would fit in with her current marks.
OK, I should be about here with all these other girls, she thought to herself, slotting herself in like some Excel guru.
How happy Petersen was to be wrong.
This season, Skyline’s precocious sophomore became the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Track Athlete of the Year thanks to the way she decimated her own expectations, breaking records and winning races in ways that left you wondering how on earth a sophomore was this good.
Petersen won the 4A state title in four different events: The 100 (12.13 seconds), the 100-meter hurdles (15.11 seconds), the 300-meter hurdles (44.44 seconds) and with her 4x100 relay team, which registered the fourth-best time in the state at 49.72 seconds.
We should probably note, too, that she went undefeated in those first three events. A sparkling 35-0.
“Looking back, it makes me feel good when I think about all the stuff that I was able to do this season,” Petersen said. “It makes me want to continue to work hard to see what I can do for next season, and the next few years I have left in high school.”
Almost just as impressive, Petersen has this all stored neatly in her brain. She remembers that on March 18, when she won all four events at the Blackfoot Quad, she smiled. That’s not a bad first meet, she thought. I know it’s a smaller meet, so I need to be ready for when I race these bigger schools.
Then, Skyline competed at the High Country Conference Invite at Madison two weeks later. Petersen felt nerves surge through her body. I’m going to be racing against the varsity athletes, and all these big schools are going to be here, she thought. Then she won the 100. Another smile washed over her face. She could hardly believe it. Her teammates raised their eyebrows.
“That was when it kind of clicked,” Petersen said. “Then, as the season progressed, I was surprising myself. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually doing this.’”
Petersen never stopped doing it. She won, won and won some more. She set times that broke school records — her best 100 time of 11.95 seconds is the best in Skyline girls history — and placed her among Idaho’s elite. She ranked second statewide in the 100. Third in the 100-meter hurdles, at 15.07 seconds. Tops in the 300-meter hurdles, at 44.44 seconds.
“I expected her to be one of the best in the state,” Skyline coach Chase Meyer said, “but the fact that she was able to not lose all season was kind of surprising. Because everybody has an off day or a bad day.”
Talk to those closest to Petersen, though, and what impresses them most — outside of the accomplishments themselves — is how hungry she is for more. See, she isn’t happy with just winning. She wants to feel like she performed her best. She’s only satisfied when those two coincide.
Part of that, Petersen says, stems from the 2020 season, or lack thereof. Remember, she was excited — psyched — to compete as a Grizzly, to show what she could do. Could she really contend as a freshman? Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, she never got to find out.
So this season, Petersen appreciated the chance to compete, but she also felt pumped. Finally, she could unleash her talent, show everyone what they had been missing out on all along. At times, it turned into a double-edged sword, like on April 16, when Skyline was competing at the Bonneville Invite. Meyer remembers that Petersen got off to a forgettable start to the 100 hurdles. She didn’t run her best. She won, of course.
“And she was so mad at herself because she didn’t do her best,” Meyer said. “She knew she had more in her. So I really had to get her back on track and help her get ready for her next race.”
For Petersen, her next race is July 2-3 in Eugene, Oregon, where she’s running the 100 at The Outdoor Nationals, basically the high school national championships. The event is at Oregon’s Hayward Field, which is another way of saying this is kind of a big deal.
For her part, Petersen is trying not to overthink things, to just enjoy the experience. Maybe she’ll even surprise herself, the same way she did several months ago.
“The main thing I’m going to focus on is doing what I know how to do and what I’ve prepared to do,” Petersen said, “and just having fun doing it.”