Clovis East High's Michael Peterson broke the family mold when he "threw long distance running to the curb" three years ago as a freshman and pursued pole vaulting in track and field. His mother, Sally, has been a devout distance runner for years. And his older brother, Jonathan, continues to log mileage at UC-Davis after capturing a Central Section 1,600-meter title at Clovis in 2007. But the vertical leap with a stick has agreed with Michael Peterson, whose school-record 15-7 ranks fourth in the state and leads the section by nearly 2 feet this season after he placed second in the section last year at 15-0.
Question: Did you stir the Peterson pot at home when you changed events as a freshman?
Answer: Yes. Being a part of the Peterson family, you have to be a runner. It was tough to break away from that, especially when my parents saw the success my brother had and thought I would have the same success. So it was a struggle at home, but we worked it out.
Once a silver medalist in the mile at the Clovis Unified School District championships as a sixth-grader, did you consider the switch a risk?
Yeah, it was kind of a gamble moving away from something that I could have been naturally good at, and taking up something that I had no idea. But it's safe to say from the minute I picked up the pole I loved pole vaulting. It was for me.
Something to say about not following footsteps?
My brother had his identity as a distance runner, and this allowed me to establish my own.
Yet you are following footsteps, having signed at UC Davis, where you'll join your brother.
He had a big influence in that decision. We've never been on the same team before because he was at Clovis when I was a sophomore here at Clovis East. I thought it would be nice to finally be on the same team.
What's been your progress in vaulting, and what's your goal this year?
I went 10 feet as a freshman, 13-3 as a sophomore, 15-0 as a junior and now 15-7 as a senior. I haven't had a slump yet, knock on wood. I want to get to 16 soon and keep raising the bar from there. Seventeen would be a nice bar, but it's going to take a lot of work. I think it's possible.
You'll have competed six or seven times at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium before the CIF State Track and Field Championships are staged there June 5-6. Will that give you an edge?
I would say so, I would hope so. I'm very lucky to have that opportunity, especially in a pit I jump so well in. That's my favorite place to jump. I feel fast on the runway, there's usually a tailwind, and it's brand new; it's beautiful.
What's for grub on the day of a meet?
Same thing, every time: two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the morning, foot-long Subway turkey sandwich for lunch and a couple chewy bars before the meet.