For Peterson, Different Kind of Turbulence

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 20, 2006

TURIN, Italy, Feb. 19 -- In freestyle skiing, the trick is confusion and terror. The more you create in the judges' minds by twisting, somersaulting and freefalling 60 feet off snow-packed hills in an aerials competition, the better. The more you contort your body in the most unnatural of ways, the better your chance of winning an Olympic gold medal.

Terror and confusion. The illusion of it made Jeret Peterson the most accomplished aerialist in the world. The reality made Jeret Peterson an angry child, a hellion teenager and, last summer, a grief-stricken roommate still trying to overcome the horrifying image of his friend putting a gun to his head and killing himself.

"Something about my world, it's all or nothing, I don't live between the margins," Peterson said. Standing outside a news conference room in the Main Media Center here last week, the 24-year-old from Boise, Idaho, shook his head and shrugged. "I never have."

Life won't let him remain there.

He had known Trey, Trevor Fernald, about a year and a half. Fernald, Peterson said, was fighting drug and alcohol addiction when he welcomed him into the life of a popular, extroverted member of the U.S. ski team. He brought him to World Cup competitions and arranged free rent by having Fernald do household tasks. On his way to the Olympics, Peterson would help him fight his demons.

But when he walked through the front door of his house last June 26 in Park City, Utah, Fernald stood there with a gun in his hand. Fernald looked at his friend for the last time and, without a word, shot himself in the temple. Peterson ran and knelt over his bleeding roommate, doing what friends do for friends when they have a bad accident on the slopes: fix them, try to put their parts back together. It was no use. Trey was gone.

"There's times definitely in which I look back and I remember the good times I had with my buddy and then there's times where, you know, I can realize that he was struggling," Peterson said.

Fernald remains in his subconscious. He has not yet tried to contact Fernald's parents, whom he hardly knows.

"There's no way that somebody cannot be affected by seeing one of their friends blow their brains out in front of you," he said in a Web site interview. "Of course, that's a life-changing experience."

The tragedy brought out a guilt that Peterson had been burying for years over another life-altering incident.

Peterson was sexually abused as a young child while in Idaho, by a person he will not name. Typically, psychiatrists and social workers deal with victims who blame child molestation on themselves, and Peterson was no different. He lived with the awful feeling that he had done something to cause the abuse, never telling anyone until 2003. When Peterson spoke for the Idaho Advocacy Program on a national day of child abuse awareness and prevention, he shared his story with several abused children.

"If you think you deserved it, I promise it wasn't your fault," he told the children. "I know because I've lived with that feeling for a long time."

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