FONDA — Every family has its traditions, legacies that pass from one generation to the next.
Maybe it’s a family business, or a pastime like hunting or fishing, or a secret family recipe that gets handed down from generation to generation.
For the Petersen family, track and field — specifically, hurdling — is in their DNA.
When Fonda-Fultonville senior Carter Petersen crossed the finish line on Feb. 5 at Hudson Valley Community College to win the boys’ 55-meter hurdles at the Section II indoor track and field state qualifying meet, he became the fifth Petersen to qualify for a New York state championship, either indoors or outdoors, as a hurdler.
It’s a legacy that spans 57 years and three generations, with Carter following in the footsteps of his grandfather Dave, father TJ, aunt Jennifer and uncle Jeff.
“For three generations, we’ve all made it,” Carter Petersen said. “I’ve always wanted to make it. I’ve always wanted to be a part of that family tradition.”
It’s a tradition that started with Dave Petersen, in more ways than one.
The progenitor of the Petersen hurdling clan, he graduated from Johnstown High School in 1965 having established the all-time Section II best of 14.3 seconds in the 120-yard high hurdles and earning a second-place finish at the state championships.
After attending the University of Wisconsin, Dave Petersen returned to the area and became a teacher at Fonda-Fultonville, where he started the track and field program in which the next two generations of his family would star.
Petersen founded the Fonda-Fultonville track program in 1971 — the boys’ team first, then the girls’ team eight years later — and served as head coach until 2001. He’s also been the Section II boys’ outdoor track coordinator since 1981.
In his 50-plus years of coaching — he’s still a member of the Braves’ staff to this day, helping to mentor his grandson — Dave Petersen has helped a litany of athletes to accolades at the Section II and state level.
Three of them just so happened to be his kids.
TJ Petersen was a multi-sport star, but his best work was on the track, where the 1992 Fonda-Fultonville graduate qualified for the indoor and outdoor state championships and remains the Section II record-holder in the 110-meter hurdles.
Jennifer Petersen — now Jennifer Jette — wasn’t just a star hurdler, she was a state champion in 1992 in the indoor high jump and outdoor pentathlon.
Jeff Petersen, the youngest of the three, competed at the indoor and outdoor state meets as a hurdler in 1998.
So, what’s the family secret?
“I don’t know,” Dave Petersen said. “I guess it’s good leg speed.”
The family’s newest standout hurdler has a theory of his own.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Carter Petersen said. “Obviously, genetics, too. But, honestly, it’s just how hard you work.”
Carter’s succeeded as a hurdler before — he was the Section II Division IV champion in the 110 hurdles last spring — but the hard work has truly paid off this winter.
And, oddly, it’s come with the hurdles as a secondary focus. Most of his work this winter has come in his other event, the pole vault, in which he’s also qualified for the state meet.
“We spent so much of the wintertime working on the pole vaulting with Dennis Hogan over at Shen, so many nights on the road back and forth, that we haven’t had the time to put into the hurdles,” Dave Petersen said. “I knew he was going to be a good hurdler, but we just didn’t have the time.”
At the state qualifying meet, everything came together.
On that day, pole vaulting wasn’t his primary focus. The venue at Hudson Valley Community College isn’t conducive to big pole vault results, so Carter Petersen focused on quickly clearing a height that would allow him to secure a top-three finish and qualify for states, having already cleared 15 feet, 6 inches earlier this season.
That allowed him to focus energy on the hurdles, where despite a tough opponent in Albany Academy’s Bashir Praileau, Carter Petersen crossed the line first in 8.14 seconds.
It was his aunt Jennifer who quickly realized the scope of the accomplishment.
“Jenny pointed it out to me at the qualifiers,” Dave Petersen said. “She’s all emotional, and says, ‘That’s our third generation.’ ”
That wasn’t the only emotional moment of that day for the Petersen family.
The state qualifiers also served as the first day where the family awarded scholarships in memory of Dave’s late wife and Carter’s grandmother, long-time area track official Chris Petersen, who died of a sudden brain hemorrhage in February 2021.
Just shy of the one-year anniversary of her death, Carter Petersen was one of the eight initial recipients of the $500 scholarship.
“Getting my grandmother’s scholarship award, that meant everything to me,” Carter Petersen said. “That made me super happy, and that’s all I wanted.”
It’s her memory that will be fueling Petersen when he steps into the starting blocks on Saturday at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex as the fifth in his family to run the hurdles at states.
“Pushing this hard only feels right,” he said. “I only want to make her as proud as I can.”