Olympic gold medalist Ben Peterson shares wrestling, faith lessons with youth during HLGU wrestling clinic

Olympic gold medalist Ben Peterson shared wrestling techniques with high school juniors and seniors and spoke on how his Christian faith has affected his life on Friday, Oct. 5 at Hannibal-LaGrange University's ((HLGU's) Secker Fieldhouse.

HLGU Wrestling Head Coach Scott Hawes remembered first meeting Peterson and holding his gold medal around the age of six. Hawes said that visit to his church left a lifelong impression of a man who put his faith in God first and how it guided him throughout his life. That lifelong connection reached a new stage as Peterson and Hawes worked with high school juniors and seniors hailing from locations like Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri during the wrestling clinic. Many of the athletes had aspirations to take their wrestling careers to the next level. Peterson shared his faith journey and specific instruction that helped him reach the top levels of the sport during a fast-paced clinic.

“The hunger that these guys have — they have desires of competing in state, and maybe even some of them getting to play some national levels — which is why they would come here to a clinic like this,” he said. “This is going to be intense. This is not your average high school kid. I love their energy.”

Hawes recalled how his connection with Peterson grew over the years. “I never knew that one day I would wrestle for him,” he said.

Peterson “had a great influence” on Hawes' life as he coached him during his wrestling career at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin. When Peterson retired, he mentored Hawes as he took on the role as head wrestling coach with the university. Hawes joined the Hannibal-LaGrange University wrestling program in 2008.

Hawes said the clinic participants possessed the motivation to further their careers, and he said he sought that type of work ethic for HLGU's wrestling program.

“Those are the kind of wrestlers we're looking for,” he said. “People who are self-motivated and self-starting, wanting to improve in the sport that they love.”

Throughout the afternoon, Peterson demonstrated each move, picking a participant or two to show the execution of maneuvers like the beginning penetration step and the arm drag. After a unison clap, the wrestlers would practice what they learned nonstop until Peterson discussed the next move. Peterson said that winning the gold medal in Munich in 1972 and the silver medal in Montreal in 1976 were memorable achievements, but they paled in comparison to the moment he knew he received his salvation through Jesus Christ.

He said he and his brother, John — who received a silver medal in Munich and a gold medal in Montreal — shared the word of God with fellow wrestlers throughout their career.

“It's the bottomline in my life,” he said. “Before I ever wrestled as a junior high boy, I came to understand my sin would have to be judged by a holy and righteous God. I understood that had been paid for when Jesus Christ died on the cross.”

Hawes said Peterson's humility and message served to inspire the youth at the clinic, and were a “perfect fit” for HLGU's mission of providing a Christian education. Hawes is also Pastor at South Side Baptist Church, and he said Peterson shared a message on Sunday that included wrestling demonstrations to depict being in the “right position in life.” Hawes said Peterson continues to represent a positive role model for him and his wrestlers.

“He is just a great example for someone like me, that says, 'man, this guy is the real deal — he's living what he believes — walking and living after the Lord,'” he said.

To learn more about Peterson's life, you can read his book Road to Gold, which is available atwww.campofchamps.org.