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Jeffrey Peterson, of San Anselmo, a triathlete who is just making his way... (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)

AS 2,000 frantic athletes jumped into the chilly San Francisco Bay at the start of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon earlier this month, Jeff Peterson, 26, was also jumping into a new career. Just over a year after competing in his first triathlon, the San Anselmo resident made his professional debut, taking on some of the best athletes in the sport.

Growing up in New Jersey, Peterson devoted his attention to running track and cross country. While running the mile for the University of North Carolina track team, Peterson steadily improved his performance, eventually reaching the 4-minute, 10-second range. In 2007, Peterson headed out west to Marin with his wife, Clara, a professional runner, where he continued to pursue his dream of running competitively.

"I thought if I dedicated myself to it post-collegiately and did the right things I would get closer to 4 minutes," he said. "But it just wasn't happening and it started to get boring and I was caught in between a weird level. I wasn't a collegiate runner anymore and I wasn't one of the elites. It just wasn't fun anymore."

Facing a crossroads in his athletic career, Peterson thought back to when he used to watch the Ironman World Championships on TV in high school.

"You watch it on NBC and it looks so cool, and you see people like Chris McCormick," he said, referring to the 2007 Ironman World Champion. "(Becoming a triathlete) was always a goal of mine.".

However, before pursuing that goal, Peterson faced

one minor problem - he didn't even own a bike. Undeterred, Peterson entered his first race, the Vineman Showdown Sprint Triathlon in April of 2009. Peterson found instant success, capturing first place in his age-group with a time of 53:13. He followed up by placing seventh in his age group at the Wildflower triathlon (an Olympic distance event), the first time he had ever ridden a tri bike. Peterson's first overall win came at Anchorman last June, followed by a second place finish in his age group at the Silicon Valley Tri at an Olympic distance.

Just five months after racing in his first triathlon, Peterson caught his big break, winning the Pacific Grove Triathlon against a highly competitive field, earning his USAT elite license. While many rookie triathletes would have remained in the age-group ranks for a few years, Peterson decided to accept the challenge and turn pro.

"There was probably an argument for staying an amateur for another year or two to gain that experience," he said. "But for me, I just felt like if I can do it now and can do it under the circumstances É I'm just going to go for it."

Just a few years after first watching him on TV, Peterson got to meet McCormick in person the day before the Alcatraz event.

"I tried to play it cool," Peterson said. "I went up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Jeff Peterson. I'm going to be racing with you tomorrow. Can I please take a picture with you?' ... He was just so nice."

On race day, Peterson faced off against McCormick and an elite field packed with some of the most talented athletes in the sport, including three-time returning champion Andy Potts and Olympian Hunter Kemper. Peterson overcame a roundabout swim to finish 16th in the male pro division in 2:12:57.

"My favorite part was just being shoulder to shoulder with some of the guys that made me get into the sport" he said. "Overall it was a good first pro race."

When Peterson is not training 20-25 hours a week, he teaches physical education at the Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera. Peterson also coaches his wife, and just started coaching the triathlon team at his alma mater in North Carolina. Peterson also just became the legal guardian of his younger brother, Evan, and became an ambassador for the Family Violence Prevention Fund. In addition, Peterson coaches individual athletes at Whole Athlete in San Anselmo, where he is planning a 10-day triathlon clinic to prepare athletes to take on the Marin County Triathlon. This will include a youth clinic, which he hopes to turn into a summer program. As if that were not enough, he also runs the social networking site for athletes,, named after his 1-year-old son, Ramsey.

"Watching Jeff train makes me realize being a runner is the easiest job ever," Peterson's wife Clara said. "All I have to do is run. At the most I put in nine hours a week of training. Compared to his 22 plus hours it practically makes me feel lazy and I run 60-70 miles a week."

Despite a busy work load and burgeoning triathlon career, Peterson makes one thing clear - his family and his students always come first.

"There is more to life than swim, bike, run," Peterson said.

NOTE: I took two months off recently to deal with some family stuff, but I am happy to training again - training in the best gear there is for that matter. Thanks Zoot, Orbea, GU, Zipp, Alcis, and Suunto.