About 12 years ago, by now a recognized XTERRA champion, magazine reporters began to call for interviews. “One morning after a large cup of coffee, answering the telephone yielded a two hour interview. Each month, iParenting.com spotlights a mother who inspires and moves them, someone who embodies special qualities that we all admire in a person, a woman and a mother. “Above all, the Mom of the Month is dedicated to her children. Rich or poor, famous or not, she shines as an example of what mothering is all about.”
“When the girls were babies, I told them, ‘I’m going out for a bike ride for two hours. And I’ll be back. It’s Daddy time,’” I explained about being dedicated to workout and preparedness for competition as an off-road triathlete.
“That’s what they knew as babies,” Peterson, a semi-professional mountain bike and triathlon world champion, says of her daughters, Hilary, now 16, and Foreste, 11. The family lives in a rustic cottage nestled in the hills of Berkeley, Calif.
“Barbara Peterson’s daughters have only known an extremely fit mother,” Peterson says of herself, in the third person. But she’s quick to add: “I am a mother, first and foremost.” It might be safe to say she’s one of few extreme mothers.
Many people get a natural high from exercise. But it’s not their spiritual font. Exercise is, however, the source of both for Peterson. “It’s my church, my sanctuary,” says Peterson, 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 108 pounds. Mother, extreme athlete, author, marketing consultant and jewelry designer, Peterson says exercise is her fuel for spiritual and physical wellness, and it has been part of her life since her late teens. Fitness has led to her athletic and literary careers and has helped shape how she parents her also very active girls, alongside husband Dick Peterson.
“Regular exercise and getting fit is everyday fuel for excelling in everyday life,” says Peterson, a four-time XTERRA USA National Champion, whose sponsors include CliffBar, Oakley, TYR Swimsuits and Specialized Bicycles. She adds that exercise is the “motor”; behind being a good mom. At about 15 years of age, she discovered this motor; it was to serve her for life.
Moving into the Light
As a high school student in the early 1970s in Armonk, N.Y., Peterson struggled with depression. Always an active child (“I had an athletic orientation,” such as swimming and skiing, she says) she had yet to view exercise as an outlet for her stress, not to mention a cure for her dark moods.
She took up running, eventually becoming the only girl on her school’s cross-country team. “Nobody ran back in 1971 and 1972,” she says. “And I ran.” She did so in tennis shoes, in the days before cushioned, specialized running shoes. She also practiced yoga, another unusual undertaking in that era for a young woman.
Once in college, at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., Peterson tapped into her Jewish heritage and studied both German Jewry and U.S.-Israeli politics. (Later, she earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology, but never practiced it.) Fitness counterbalanced her academic and professional pursuits: She joined the tennis, ski and squash teams while keeping up lap swim and running.
Her approach to “mood-enhancing” was different than most, she says. “Where there was darkness and frustration and confusion and disappointment, as a young woman, when I exercised I found light, calm and pools of positive energy,” she says. This was the energy Peterson would need for the next sport she was to discover.
Racing off the Road
After college, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she worked for the office of American-Israeli foreign affairs. While in the Bay Area, she met like- minded, high-intensity athletes who were pioneering a new sport: mountain biking.
In the early ’80s, Peterson became part of a group of rigorous biking enthusiasts who wanted to proliferate knowledge of and interest in their relatively new sport for both its health and environmental benefits. Again, she was one of few women in the field. “I was absolutely one of the only women who did mountain-bike racing,” she says. Perhaps this made it easier to meet her future husband, Dick Peterson, also an avid mountain biker and skier.
Her love of and devotion to mountain biking parlayed itself into participating in competitions called XTERRAs, rugged, off-road triathlons that require a 1.5K open-water swim, running for 12 kilometers across soft sand, rivers and trails and a 35K mountain bike ride on extremely rugged terrain.
“I do this sport because I love it, and because of what it gives me on many different levels,” she says, including boosting her writing career. Author of The Bed Rest Survival Guide (Avon, 1998), and an ongoing series of inspirational books – under the Power of Exercise" moniker – aimed at girls and mothers as well as seniors and busy professionals, Peterson says her athletic success has given her name recognition and depth of experience.