John F. Russell: Trying to understand

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— I’ve spent more than 40 years on this Earth doing my best to learn as much as possible.

But in that time I’ve also realized that there are some things I will never understand.

I don’t understand how the universe was created, or why we don’t see dinosaurs hanging out in Florida anymore.

I don’t understand how the pyramids where constructed in Egypt or why someone took the time to build Stonehenge.

I don’t understand why professional athletes earn so much money to play a child’s game or why Justin Bieber sells so many records.

Last week when I heard that Olympic silver medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Lambs Canyon, between Salt Lake City and Park City in Utah, I was baffled once again.

I had the privilege of watching the young man compete several times in Steamboat Springs as well as Salt Lake City, Sauze d’Oulx in Italy and, most recently, at the Cypress Bowl Ski Area in British Columbia.

The last time I saw him jump was at the men’s aerial qualifiers at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He placed fifth that night in the qualifying round before making a run that landed him the silver medal a few days later.

I didn’t get to see the finals because I was a few miles away reporting on the Nordic combined team that night. It was my loss.

I knew Peterson as a freestyle skier and I was lucky enough to talk to him a couple of times during his career. But I didn’t know him well, and if I combined all of the conversations we had they would add up to a only few short moments.

Despite my limited contact, I could see why this confident young man found so much success in his sport. His drive was clear and his dedication was impressive.

But even as we struggle to understand why, at just 29, Peterson ended his own life, it is clear that his struggles with depression were, in the end, simply too much.

He endured more than most, including his sister being killed in a car accident when he was 5, and witnessing his roommate and friend commit suicide in 2005.

Most of us will never understand what Peterson went through, but I can imagine the pain that his family and friends and the skiing community that admired him will go through as they deal with his death.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people in the United States, and yet it seems to be treated differently than many other life-threatening diseases.

It hides in the shadows, cloaked by guilt and shame. Families are left in the aftermath filled with confusion, guilt and frustration.

I may never understand why someone wants to commit suicide, but it’s not hard to recognize its impact. This week, suicide stole an accomplished and admired Olympian. Maybe that’s all we really need to understand.

— To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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