From Blue Jeans to Breaking Records: Student Runner Racing to Success

Seventeen-year-old Tanner Peltier ran 400 miles over the summer and wore out two pairs of shoes.
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Seventeen-year-old Tanner Peltier ran 400 miles over the summer and wore out two pairs of shoes.

Yet Peltier, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, still has a lot of running ahead of him. That’s according to his cross-country coach at Aberdeen Central High School in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

“He’s just starting to see where he can go,” Coach Greg Murley said. “He has the racing world in front of him and he could be phenomenal.”

Peltier this season became the fourth runner in his school’s history to win the boy’s championship during the Eastern South Dakota Conference Cross-Country Meet when he ran the 5,000-meter race in 16 minutes, 47 seconds. Later, he finished eighth in the state and broke his own record when he ran the distance in 16 minutes, 16 seconds.

Murley calls Peltier a “serious athlete” with a lot of potential.

“He’s very particular about how he works; he’s very disciplined,” he said. “He pays attention to the little things in his running—he doesn’t drink pop, he makes sure he gets enough sleep, he eats a certain diet to make sure he can perform at a certain level. It’s not just the workout, but he looks at the whole picture to keep himself physically fit.”

But Peltier wasn’t always so polished. He ran his first race at age 11 or 12, he said—and he wore blue jeans.

“That was the Munchkin Run,” he said. “A little mock race. We ran around two soccer fields and I got a ribbon for participating. I wasn’t the fastest, but I realized it was something I could do.”

When Peltier started seventh grade, a coach introduced him to cross-country. He joined the varsity team during his freshman year of high school, and he’s been breaking records since.

At the Eastern South Dakota conference, he faced off against runners from nine teams.

“It was very matched up and I was running against tough competition,” he said. “Because of the caliber of runners, winning was very gratifying. It was something I really put all my effort into.”

For Peltier, running is a mixture of physical training and mental preparation. He’s known for trailing early in the race and finishing strong. The young athlete also relies on tips from professional runners, including 10,000-meter Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, who offered advice to Peltier during a workshop last year.

“He was right there in front of me,” Peltier said of Mills. “I had someone who’s really experienced in life and who used running and benefitted from it in the long run. Talking to him was something I felt. He talked about how running was spiritual. That spoke to me.”

Peltier also attributes his success to friends and family who cheer him on, and to his roots on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Peltier was born on the reservation, but now lives nearly 400 miles away. His family returns every summer to “dive into ancestral ties,” he said.

Yet Peltier also has strong ties to Aberdeen, where he has friends, teammates and coaches who cheer him toward the finish line. The young athlete plans to go to college and travel—and he plans to run everywhere he goes.

“Running gives me persistence,” he said. “I really don’t want to give up on anything. Running has given me stamina to get through everything.”

Colleges already are recruiting Peltier and Murley believes he’ll succeed in whatever he chooses to do.

“There’s not a kid I’ve coached who has better character,” he said. “I would stake my reputation on him. He’s a hard worker academically and a hard worker in cross-country. If we could put someone on a poster to represent Aberdeen Central, it should be him.”