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A True Champion (Jeremiah Peterson)



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Our Taco John's Athlete of the Week is one of those inspirational athletes that everyone should know about.  Jeremiah Peterson of Canton will try to win his third state wrestling championship this weekend, but no matter what happens on the mat, Jeremiah has already come out on top.

Ever since he started wrestling varsity, Jeremiah Peterson has been one of the best wrestlers in South Dakota.  As a 103 pound eighth grader, Peterson became a state champion.  Two years later, at 125 pounds, he did it again.  So on the surface, it was no surprise to see him in the championship match last year.

"I was 100% sure, well, close to it, that I was gonna win a state championship again," said Peterson.

In the finals, Peterson was leading 8-3 with just 22 seconds remaining, when the unthinkable happened.  He was pinned by Watertown wrestler Sawyer Hoffman.  What made the loss so excruciatingly hard to take though is what happened earlier in the year.

"I just kinda had a stomach ache after our football camp thing,” said Peterson.  "Two days later, my birthday, we actually went to the emergency room.  They said it was either a cyst or a tumor on my left kidney."

It turned out to be a Wilms' tumor, a type of cancer that is most common in children five years old or younger.  His kidney needed to be removed and he had to undergo 18 weeks of treatment.

"It was a blow,” said Canton wrestling coach Jeremy Ask.  "When he goes down, when your Superman goes down, it's kinda hard for the rest of the guys and me as a coach to look around and say 'Who's gonna protect us, who's gonna take care of us, who's our guy that we always look up to?'"

Peterson missed almost the entire wrestling season, but about a week after his treatment ended, he was back on the mat.  In fact, he rolled through the competition earning a 7-0 record until the championship match.

"It was the most surreal experience I've ever had in my life.  I felt like I was there, but in another aspect, I felt like I was removed from it, like it wasn't real, like, how could this possibly happen?" said Ask.

"Getting beat like that, that's hard man.  Especially all the stuff I went through in the year," said Peterson.

"Everybody was sitting there in the stands, including us, including his teammates, including the people watching and expecting the little miracle," said Ask.

He ended up in second.  But a small miracle happened in defeat.  When Hoffman stepped to the top of the podium, some fans booed.  That's when Peterson put on his greatest performance of the tournament, lowering his arms and silencing the crowd.

"His initial reaction was, 'Everybody stay with me.  If you're here for me, then stay with me," said Ask about the gesture.

"He won that match.  Some people started booing and I said, 'That's not right.'  So I just kinda tried to calm it down a little bit," said Peterson.

Peterson was named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.  Now as a senior, he's back at State.  He'll undoubtedly have everyone rooting for him, and he says he would love nothing more than to win his third title.

"I think it'll mean a little more," said Peterson.

No matter what happens, Jeremiah Peterson is already a champion both on and off the mat.

Jason Anschutz, KDLT Sports, Canton.

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