THE PETER AUCH STORY: READY TO RUN
It was the fall of 2011 and the Beresford Boy’s Cross Country team had just placed 4th at the state meet for the first time in their school’s history. In South Dakota, a team must finish in the Top 4 to warrant an award-stand appearance. Needless to say, the Watchdog boys were excited to be recognized on the big stage. For most of these boys, this was their first taste of success in any avenue.
It was an exciting day for Beresford Cross Country.
Perhaps none were more excited than Peter Auch, an 8th grade rookie who had earned a spot on the team as an alternate. Peter had been running cross country for only a year, but had already caught the attention of Head Coach Matt Coy.
Part of a coach’s job is to identify leaders within the team, and it was clear to everyone in the program that Peter was “the one” to lead the next generation of Watchdog distance runners.
Peter’s talent was obvious, but it was the intangibles that made Peter stand out, even as an eighth-grader. He was punctual, precise, and most importantly, internally driven and focused.
Thus, Peter was chosen as an alternate for the state meet. The trip was not only a reward for his hard work and race performances, but a chance for Peter to experience the pressure-packed state meet atmosphere. Peter would need to know the ins-and-outs of the meet’s structure as he would help lead the Watchdog troops as early as next season.
From the initial Friday course jog to the pre-race warm-up, Peter studied every detail.
READY TO RUN
Rarely do alternates actually end up racing, but they are expected to pack a uniform in their bag in case one of the “starters” is sick or injured and can’t race. An alternate would also need their uniform to wear on the medal-stand if their team finished in a coveted “podium” spot.
Coach Coy, whose team wasn’t predicted to finish on the podium, didn’t think to go over award-stand routines the night before.
Just before the awards presentation, Coy found all of his runners and made one last request.
“I told the boys they needed to wear their uniforms on the awards stand to look like a team,” said Coy. “I looked at Peter and said he could wear his warm-up jacket since he likely had his uniform in his bag.”
Peter’s uniform wasn’t in his bag.
"Little did I know, he was wearing his uniform all day. He ripped off his jacket and running pants and had his uniform on,” said Coy.
“He had been ready to run all along.”
As Coy would find over the next three years, Peter was unlike any athlete he had ever coached.
Underneath the kind, shy smile was a relentless athlete determined to make the most of every opportunity presented to him. In an era where apathy can be the norm, Peter was rare.
It didn’t matter the workout, the race or the task- Peter was always- figuratively speaking- ready to run.
“He never missed a practice, he knew every calorie he put into his body, he studied the correct running shoe for his body type, he studied training and tapering, and he was always picking my brain about what we were doing and what my overall plan was for him and the team. He was one of those rare competitors that you only get to coach once in a lifetime. He didn't want to be mediocre and didn't want his team to be mediocre either – he was determined to be great.”
This all-or-nothing attitude wasn’t limited to just running – this was the way Peter approached life.
“He was determined to get from life what he needed,” says his mom, Mary Auch, a registered dietitian at Sanford Health. “He couldn’t just chill out and just enjoy free time and leisure. He used it for something he wanted to accomplish. He knew his weaknesses, and was honest to list overcoming them as a priority.”
As the years passed, Peter’s relentless determination to be great began to reveal itself through running.
THE GOAL: “TOP 25”
After a great summer of training before his sophomore year of cross-country, Peter began to produce a level of success far surpassing anything he’d accomplished in his young career. As the season progressed, Peter established himself as one of the best runners in Class ‘A’ Cross Country.
By the time of the state meet in October, Peter was excited and confident in his preparation that he could finish on the award’s stand with a Top 25 finish – a goal that he had set before his training began the previous summer.
This “podium” finish was the spark that drove Peter out the door for hundreds upon hundreds of training miles, battling Eastern South Dakota’s oppressive summers.
The night before the race, the team went out to a restaurant for a traditional pre-meet meal, which is more or less an opportunity to unwind with teammates and family before the excitement and anxiety of race day.
While most of the team, consisting of 13-17 years old kids, was typically giddy with nerves and excitement, Peter was a different story. Dialed-in and focused - and mildly annoyed at the energy of his teammates - Peter seemed ready to run, right then and there. Race day couldn’t come any sooner.
“Watching the video of the team eating the night before the state meet, you can see that Peter was not goofing off like the others,” said Mary as she recalls the video Coach Coy made of the events that weekend. “He was thoughtful as usual, thinking I’m sure of his strategy and how to make sure he would win.”
Although a just sophomore, Peter and his senior teammate, Riley Schaap, led the Watchdogs through the morning of the state meet like veteran leaders. In fact, everything the day of the big race went as planned - a rarity in high school athletics.
The State Cross Country Championships is a unique event. The meet consists of over one hundred athletes, all competing in one race, all with similar goals, and all ready and determined to run their best race of the season.
“Winning”, per se, means hundreds of different things to cross country runners. At the state cross-country meet, the peak of success is often associated with cracking the top-25 – the goal Peter had set for himself several months prior.
With the firing of the starter’s pistol, the runners were off. Peter and the rest of the Beresford squad started off near the back of the pack. With the slow start, one couldn’t help but wonder - Were they ready to run? Had nerves conquered the young group? Did they peak too soon?
However, half-way through the 5 kilometer race, Peter started to make his move from forty runners into the pack to the 30’s and closer to his goal. As the closing kilometer loomed, Peter’s tactics were working, and his goal of a podium finish- the coveted Top 25- was within reach.
Peter continued to pick-off his competitors, one by one. As he neared the final straightaway, it was clear that his goal of reaching the podium was becoming a reality.
The official results confirmed it- Peter had just placed 17th in Class A at the 2013 State Cross Country Meet.
And as it turned out, the conservative start to the race was all part of the plan- Peter and the Beresford boys were ready to run after all.
The 2013 state meet was the best race of Peter’s life. All of the focus, determination, and commitment to all of the little things had paid off.
But even in the midst of his excitement, Peter was still thinking of the people around him.
His teammate, Riley Schapp, had also come from the back of the pack with Peter, but the effort was too much. Schaap passed out and crashed into the woodchips just before the finish line to miss out on his own Top-25 finish. It was a heartbreaking end to a career for Schaap, a senior.
Peter knew Schapp had gone through the same “trial of miles” as him the previous summer in hopes of a podium finish. He was well-aware of their shared top-25 goal.
In respect for his teammate, Peter saved his celebration and ran a victory lap far away in a circle around the team camp.
As Peter jogged by himself in a mini-celebration, Coy recalls him letting out a controlled scream of excitement.
THE NEXT STEP
His performance at the state cross-country meet was a sign of great things to come for Peter Auch. The once shy, quiet 8th grade alternate had matured into a confident, talented distance runner.
He was progressing very quickly, and both Coach Coy and Peter knew the next step from the podium could be an all-state selection – and perhaps even higher accolades after that.
Even more exciting for Peter was the anticipation for the upcoming track and field season, a sport where he had already shown incredible potential as a freshman. A breakthrough track season seemed inevitable.
Peter knew the possibilities, but he also knew dreams were nothing without the foundation of hard work. Although only early November, he had already started training for the spring season, doing all of the little things that make champions.
He continued to stick to his incredibly strict diet (his mother is a registered dietitian, after all), and he was juggling his academic and athletic commitments admirably. Peter was consistently receiving high marks in the classroom and was in a tight race for valedictorian of his class.
The younger guys looked up to him as a role-model, and his easy-going, positive outlook on life made him a popular kid around the school.
In fact, as coach Coy recalls, Peter seemed to be smiling everywhere he went.
“Maybe because he was up to something, or maybe because he was just enjoying life,” he says. “Probably a little bit of both.”
By all accounts, Peter was just simply really great kid. As a parent, I’d want my kid to hang out Peter Auch.
Given Peter’s outstanding reputation, it’s with no surprise why the events of Friday, November 22, were such a paralyzing blow to the Beresford community.
After finishing a workout at the school, Peter drove to his home in Centerville to get ready for a gathering with some friends at a local church.
It was a Friday night, and his friends were already at church waiting for his arrival. But after an extended period of time, Peter’s friends began to worry. Typically punctual and dependable, Peter had yet to arrive.
And then came the sirens.
On his way to church, Peter was struck by a vehicle trying to pass another car on the highway, just a mile and a half from the turn-off to the church.
The next day, due to the injuries he received in the accident, Peter passed away in a Sioux Falls hospital.
It was all too sudden. It was all too confusing. It was all too very, very sad.
Peter was just 16 years old.
THE PURPOSE OF PETER AUCH
But in the days following this tragic event, Peter’s family – and the Beresford community – were beginning to learn some incredible things about the kid behind that memorable smile.
It was clear that a bigger story was beginning to unfold – a story that would reveal a purpose far greater than distance running.
In fact, as it turned out Peter’s story wasn’t about running at all.
If you were to visit Peter’s Twitter account today, you would see that purpose written out very clearly in the description under his username.
Like a silent message of reassurance, it reads, quoting from John 3:30:
“He must increase, I must decrease.”
Peter was not done with the people in his life. He was determined, even in his absence, to leave an impact.
Following the accident, Peter’s family discovered a notebook in his room with a long list of goals addressing his spiritual, mental, physical and social life. From Peter’s writings, one could see a teen that was reflective and analytical about his own life and the impact of his choices to those around him.
Deeply religious, Peter wanted to bring people closer to the God he had come to love. He wanted his peers to see a higher calling beyond alcohol, drugs, and the many other superfluous objects of our everyday existence.
He not only strived to lead a fulfilling life for himself, but he wanted those around him to be happy and fulfilled, too.
Keep in mind, this kid was sixteen.
The selections from Peter’s notebook that were read at his prayer ceremony had a profound impact on the entire Beresford community, and especially to Coach Coy and the Beresford Cross Country team.
“After some of his goals were read at his prayer service, we realized Peter was going to have a lasting impact on all of us. He had a number one goal of bringing people closer to Jesus, especially his classmates, and he also wanted to win a state cross country championship. Those will stick with our cross country family for years and years to come.”
Peter lived his life deliberately and purposefully- and that was the permanent impression he left with everyone who knew him.
It’s a lesson we can all take from the 16 year-old: live life with a distinct, well-defined purpose.
“Peter read a book with his dad this last year called Don't Waste Your Life. It is a saying that I remind myself about daily,” says Coy. “He had a purpose in life and fulfilled it. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He loved life.”
His mother, Mary, wholeheartedly agrees.
“Peter would be so glad to know the effect his life had on his classmates and that in the end he pointed them towards the God he loved. His real purpose for his life was fulfilled in his short sixteen years; he had accomplished the job God had made him to do.”
On what will be remembered as the most tragic day for Peter’s family, teammates, and friends, it was simply a new beginning for Peter:
One in which I can only imagine began by God asking,
“Peter, are you ready to run?”
If you look closely at the Beresford coaching staff at the next track meet, you’ll see a face familiar to those who knew Peter.
That face belongs to Peter’s older brother, Matt.
Matt has volunteered his time to help coach the Watchdog distance runners- just another way the purpose of Peter Auch lives on.