GOSHEN — Tina Peters was the first race walker in Goshen College women’s track history. She also became the most decorated athlete in program history, regardless of gender.
In the eight combined seasons Peters had for the Maple Leafs — four indoor and four outdoor — she was named an NAIA All-American in all eight of them. She won four national championships in the 3,000-meter race walk event, winning indoor crowns her first three years, 2007-09, and an outdoor title in her freshman year of 2007 as well.
For Peters, just getting the chance to race as a member of a school’s team was what motivated her.
“I had big goals planned my first year,” Peters said. “I was really focusing on the college races for the first time; as a high schooler, I never really got to race for my high school, and so I was really excited to represent my school in my races. I was really targeting the indoor nationals and the outdoor nationals as my key races.”
Peters had competed in race walking during her high school years in Ohio, but never for her actual high school itself. The school she went to didn’t offer the sport, so she race walked for a U-18 team for USA Track and Field.
When it came to making a college decision, Peters knew she wanted to go to an NAIA school because the NAIA had race walking, which the NCAA doesn’t. She also wanted to go to a school with a good program she wanted to major in physics. Goshen College checked both of those boxes for Peters.
“I got to meet the track coach there — at the time it was Doug Yoder — and I really hit it off with him,” Peters said. “And, I also really liked the professors in the physics department when I went on my campus visit. It was the combination of those things that really attracted me to Goshen.”
Peters came out guns blazing her freshman campaign, winning the national titles in both the indoor and outdoor race walks. She won with a time of 14:50 for the indoor title and 15:20 for the outdoor.
Peters then repeated her indoor success in 2008. Although her overall time went down by 32 seconds, she was still able to capture a national title. It was also her biggest margin of victory of her four national title wins, winning by a whopping 83 seconds. Her outdoor time remained the same from her freshman year, but she finished third instead of first.
In her junior year of 2009, she won her third indoor title with a time of 14:58. She would then place second in the outdoor competition, clocking in a 15:16 race.
“I wouldn’t say I necessarily felt a lot of outside pressure; I certainly was very excited with the success of my first year and wanted to continue it,” Peter said. “I think, with the college program, it really depends on who’s coming in and who’s graduating in that four-year window people have for competition. … I didn’t really look to continue to win year to year; I looked for continuing to improve my times and race better year after year.”
Peters looked to go for the four-peat of indoor titles her senior year but finished fourth in the race. She walked her fastest time at nationals, though, with a 14:44. It was a competitive race that year, according to Peters, making everyone’s times that much faster.
“I didn’t see my senior year as a disappointment because it was my best time,” Peters said. “I would’ve preferred to win, obviously, but I felt like I raced well. I was disappointed with the place, but it still was an improvement over the previous year.”
For her senior year, they changed the outdoor race from 3,000 meters to 5,000. Peters still did well in the race, placing fifth with a time of 26:34.
Since leaving Goshen College, Peters went on to earn her PhD in physics. She is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada as part of the school’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
In the decade since Peters’ graduation, Goshen College has continued on her legacy as a race walker. The school has qualified at least one female for the national finals in the race every year, with all of them earning All-American honors in either the indoor or outdoor finals. For Peters, the continued success of the program is one of the things she’s most proud of.
“It seems like they have race walkers at the nationals pretty much every year now since I’ve left, and I really like seeing that,” Peters said. “I really like following the success of the Goshen College race walkers in particular and it just makes me really happy to see them carrying that on.”