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Born with the heart of a gambler, he took that passion to Las Vegas and won $550,000 playing blackjack one night in the pre-Turin days. But within years, he was virtually broke again after giving some of it away and losing even more in the tanking real estate market.
Trying to decide whether he wanted to stay in the sport after Turin, he took time off and started working in the construction business -- a place, he said, where he could see the effort of a hard day's work without having to walk into the video room the next day and break it down on the screen.
He also got sober and said last year that he had stopped drinking.
It was all a precursor to his return to his passion -- skiing. He recommitted leading up to Vancouver. And what a payoff. He came in second that night, but hardly felt like a runner-up.
"I do it because I want to be the person I know I can be," he said. "I've really changed things around in the last 3 1/2 years. This is my medal for everything I've overcome, and I'm ecstatic."
US Ski Team CEO Bill Marolt called Tuesday "a sad day in our sport."
"Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson was a great champion who will be missed and remembered as a positive, innovative force on not only his sport of freestyle aerials, but on the entire U.S. Freestyle Ski Team family and everyone he touched," Marolt said.
This year, Peterson was enrolled at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, working on a degree while he took some time off and decided if he wanted to re-up for 2014. He had signed a deal as a spokesman for the onion industry and was featured in a fun little video on YouTube cooking up a so-called "Hurricane Burger."
"He only has two speeds," it says at the start of the video. "Stop and go."
Peterson's message to almost anyone he talked to was to take chances, to never settle for ordinary. And in a sport known for its risk-takers and daredevils, Peterson still stood out. Maybe the most fitting tribute is that seven years after he first started trying to push his sport forward with the "Hurricane," there are only a small handful of skiers who will try anything that risky.
"Over the course of your career, you hope you get an athlete or maybe two athletes like him," Christensen said, "and he was one of those guys."
Associated Press reporter John Miller in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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