February 28, 2012

A Great Example: Chris Peterson

Many people cannot wrap their minds around the idea of mastering the study of mechanical engineering.

Many also cannot imagine mustering the dedication it takes to become an integral part of a University's athletics program.

Chris Peterson has excelled in both.

The senior from El Sobrante, Calif. has spent the last four years at UCSB accomplishing outstanding feats both in and out of the pool. His presence on the swim team has pushed the whole program to new levels.  

Last year Peterson was part of the 400 freestyle relay that set a new school record of 2:52:90. This year he helped the team secure the men's first undefeated dual meet season. He broke his idol, Jason Lezak's, UCSB school records in both the 50 and 100 freestyle at last year's Pac-10 Championships.

Peterson was also the only swimmer from UCSB to qualify for the 2011 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships making him the first male swimmer to qualify for the NCAA Championships since 2007.

Judging from his outstanding performances, one would speculate that the prolific swimmer began his career in the water perhaps before learning to walk. However, Peterson wasn't even involved in the sport until his senior year of high school. His interest had always resided in dance, the performing arts, and gymnastics. He then turned to diving when injuries began to stand in the way his proceeding with gymnastics.

Peterson participated in recreational swimming that quickly led to a commitment to year-round swimming the year prior to him coming to UCSB.

"From gymnastics I went right into diving and from diving into the pool and that was the foundation that kind of lead me up to a swim career at UCSB," Peterson explained. "Gregg Wilson found me in the pool on Thanksgiving day."

Up until that moment, Peterson had never considered pursing athletics in college and was instead focused on a major in mechanical engineering.

"The idea of athletics was definitely exciting and with Gregg's encouragement I went for it."   

Becoming involved in the high-pressure realm of college athletics did not dampen Peterson's will to excel in his dream field of engineering.

The challenge of majoring in engineering while simultaneously participating in Division I athletics is rarely attempted in any school. Peterson explains that engineering has been in his family for as long as he could remember and much of his family, including his father and brother, are engineers.

"I've always been interested in pulling apart things and rebuilding…I knew from a young age that mechanical engineering was an area that I was interested in," Peterson said.

Peterson has accumulated a collection of academic accomplishments similar to those in swimming. He is an active member of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and has been awarded the Christopher Davis Scholarship, a College of Engineering Academic Scholastic Award, and made the Dean's List for engineering.

Peterson modestly attributes some of his unique success to both the academic staff at UCSB and the environment provided by his swim team.

"It's very rare to have a men's and women's team that are so close and dedicated in helping one another and encouraging one another both inside the pool and outside in academics."

Peterson explains that his previous athletic endeavors had never given him an experience quite like swimming.

"My teammates backing me up, that was a whole new perspective. Having this team encouraging you to swim fast, encouraging you to go all out and strive for your dreams and your goals was a lot of fun and very helpful."

Peterson gives "well-rounded" a whole new definition.

Besides the exceptional amounts of effort he invests in swimming and school, he is also a member of the Golden Key Academic Honor Society, has an interest in piano, guitar, and writing music.

After the 2011-12 collegiate season concludes, Peterson will continue to train for the Olympic Trials this summer with high hopes of making the USA Olympic Team. He is simultaneously pursuing studies in aerospace dealing with composites and supersonic flow, among other progressive academic measures. He envisions a career that entails aerospace or robotics components in the near future and will continue working to achieve these goals along with his athletic aims.