I always told Jeret "Speedy" Peterson that I considered myself a de facto Olympic gold medalist, based on the fact that he won silver at the Vancouver Games and that I had beaten him.
To clarify: I am not a freestyle skier, and the event in which I defeated him was a friendly indoor go-kart race. But never mind that. During some good-natured text banter over several weeks, I assured him my victory that day in San Diego meant I clearly had the mentality of an Olympic champ.
He would respond that I should always remember the day, as such a fluke result would never happen again.
Sadly, he was right on both counts.
Speedy Peterson was found dead in Utah on Monday night in what police are calling a suicide. He was 29. We were not close friends, but we had hung out a couple of times in California after being introduced by Yahoo! Sports editor Lisa Antonucci, who was one of Speedy's dearest friends and confidants. We would always exchange messages when he returned to his base in Utah. For those who don't follow the Winter Olympics, Peterson won silver in aerials last year with his trusted "Hurricane" move. The skiing world is in shock at his loss. So am I.
In the months that followed that afternoon of go-karting, my mind would regularly flicker back to a conversation we had in a bar just outside Carlsbad, California.
We each had a beer -- mine regular and his the non-alcoholic variety. After repeated troubles with alcohol, he was staying away from the stuff as he tried to get his career back on track. But he didn't want to stick out. He picked the label from the beer and pulled it off, so that no one would see it was alcohol-free.
My girlfriend at the time was with us and the conversation was light and cheery. I was still in a buoyant mood after the karting, even though he had won most of the races and the primary reason for my lone victory was that I put him into the wall on the second corner.
But when the girl took a bathroom break he made a statement that will long stick with me. We were talking about his career, about the mentality of a champion and the feeling of euphoria that comes with success.
His comment which followed broke my heart, and does even more so now.
"My problem is that every time I win something, I think of everything bad that has happened in my life," he told me. "I think of it in a good way I guess -- like having overcome something or proven someone wrong -- but it feels more like a punishment than a reward. I don't have any nice memories that don't make me think of something bad."
Peterson was reportedly sexually abused as a child and led a tortured and tumultuous adult life. In a haunting and beautifully written article by Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan in 2010, Speedy detailed how a friend had committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head while standing just feet away from him.
Speedy had some problems -- not that you would know it from his warmth of personality and winning smile.
But that comment ate at me. Imagine every successful moment, those snapshots of glory that every athlete strives for, being tainted by memories he fought at every other time to suppress.
To me it was one of the saddest things I had ever heard.
Police revealed a suicide note had been found next to Peterson's body on Monday, but the details are being kept private. What I believe is that his memories simply never left him, that no amount of sporting success could rinse those images from his mind.
Not even that special night in Vancouver, when he took silver and tears of joy streamed down his face.
Speedy Peterson is in a better place, a more peaceful one. His finest hour was a second place finish, but given everything he overcame to become one of his sport's very best, he will always be a champion to me.
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