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Feature Story

Boeing employee Donna Peters

Marc Selinger/Boeing

Boeing employee Donna Peters once competed in triathlons around the world. She now plays a role in selecting triathlon athletes for the Olympics. Although she no longer competes herself, she continues to swim, as shown here at a pool in Washington, D.C., as well as cycle and run.

Accidental Athlete

Peters runs in the Wildflower Triathlon near San Louis Obispo, Calif.

Timothy Carlson

Peters runs in the Wildflower Triathlon near San Louis Obispo, Calif., in 2000.

As a recent college graduate and newly minted Boeing engineer in Seattle in the late 1980s, Donna L. Peters made the seemingly ordinary decision to jog with co-workers during her lunch hour. It was a way to make friends, get exercise and clear her head, all at once.

“I needed an outlet,” said Peters, now a senior manager in Arlington, Va., in Boeing’s Strategic Missile and Defense Systems division.

Unexpectedly, her outlet soon widened -- dramatically. She joined fitness friends in a 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland cycling event, then a local triathlon competition. The triathlon involved an endurance-testing mix of about a mile of swimming, immediately followed by 25 miles of cycling and 6 miles of running.

Peters, who had previously competed only in swimming during high school, soon became hooked on the triathlon. She started competing as an amateur at higher levels and quickly became a standout among women, winning a statewide triathlon, then a national title.

“What I put into it is what I got out of it,” she said. “If I worked really hard and trained to perfection, I got rewarded. Besides, I would get bored if I had to repeatedly focus on one activity.”

Encouraged by her success, she began competing professionally and took four years off from work to compete in triathlons around the world. She took home $15,000 from a single race in Switzerland and in 1990 Triathlete Magazine named her Rookie of the Year. In a 1992 cover story, Seattle-based Northwest Runner magazine called Peters “one of the top pro American triathletes.”

Peters on the cover of Northwest Runner magazine

photo provided by Northwest Runner

Peters was featured on the cover of Seattle-based Northwest Runner magazine in 1992. The magazine called her “one of the top pro American triathletes.”

Although she never got an opportunity to compete in the Olympics, which didn’t incorporate the triathlon until the 2000 Games in Sydney, she racked up a host of other accomplishments. She represented the United States at the 1994 Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia. A year later, she placed third in the Pan American (Pan Am) Games in Argentina. At a major triathlon event in Florida, she set a course record that went unbroken for 15 years. Another of her course records, in California, stood for 14 years.

Peters no longer competes in triathlons, but she continues to swim, cycle and run non-competitively. In July, she spent her vacation running 100 miles around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the European Alps.

“I think there is no better feeling than being super fit,” she said. “It is not necessarily the fact that you are stronger or faster than a large percentage of the population but rather that your immune system is robust, your energy level is high and your confidence is strong. That healthiness makes me more productive at work and improves my ability to concentrate and make better, more thoughtful decisions, even under stressful conditions such as tight deadlines."

She also still serves the triathlon community as an unpaid volunteer on the committee that sets criteria for selecting U.S. triathlon athletes for the Olympic and Pan Am Games.

“I wanted to give back and make it a better sport,” she said of her committee service. “I wanted other people to experience the joy.”

Brian Harrington, president of USA Triathlon, which selects and trains U.S. triathlon athletes for the Olympics and other major international competitions, attributed Peters’ appointment to the committee to her many years of leadership in the triathlon world.

“Donna has done a great job representing the triathlon community at home and abroad, both as an athlete and an advocate,” Harrington said. “Her enthusiasm for the sport on and off the race course has helped boost the triathlon’s profile and prestige tremendously over the past two decades.”

Peters has also inspired family members to become more physically active, including her husband, Tim Peters, vice president of Global Security Systems in Boeing’s Intelligence and Security Systems division.

“After watching Donna compete in the 1989 Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, I was super motivated to learn how to swim so I could also compete in triathlons,” said Tim Peters, who completed the Hawaiian Ironman in 1991. “The decompressing effect I get from an aerobic workout helps me put things in perspective and makes me a better leader and decision-maker at work.”