From the track to med school: GVSU student athlete finds success in sports, the classroom

GVL / Courtesy - Grace Peterson

GVL / Courtesy – Grace Peterson

Ty Konell

For students at Grand Valley State University, the struggle of balancing classes, a social life and sleep is a daily reality. For pre-medical senior Grace Peterson, this has never been more true. A full course load, medical school applications, interviews, and track and field have kept her schedule full, but she is finding a way to make it work during her final semester at GVSU.

Peterson was recruited to GVSU track and field as a freshman and said she was initially doing work with research before figuring out she wanted to go down the path of the sciences and aim for medical school. 

Now, four years later, Peterson is sitting with acceptances to two different medical schools, is waiting on a final word from three others, and holds the GVSU record for the track and field pentathlon indoor event. Referring to her numerous academic and athletic successes, Peterson cites a strong support system as a source of her triumphs.

“I had a lot of really amazing support from the people here (at GVSU), like JoAnn Litton,” Peterson said. “She’s one of the pre-med advisers, and she was super helpful throughout the entire thing. And I was able to get letters of recommendation from professors because I have a lot of really good relationships here.”

Although Peterson is excited to start the next phase of her academic career, she admitted that the medical school application process was grueling and intense. 

“It was a really stressful process throughout the summer just because there’s a lot of schools that you end up having to apply to,” Peterson said. “They recommend that you apply to between 10 to 15 schools, which I think is an insane number. I ended up doing 12, which was a lot but not too many I don’t think.” 

Despite the long waiting time that comes with applications to medical, graduate and law schools, Peterson has already heard back from two schools and interviewed with three others.

“I actually ended up getting my first interview pretty early,” she said. “I received an invitation back in August and interviewed at Oakland University of William Beaumont in September, and then was accepted in October. So, I at least did have something pretty early on, but I’m honestly still waiting to hear back from a couple schools right now.”

People who know Peterson personally think she is well-suited for the medical school experience and believe she will thrive in her studies.

“Knowing Grace and her work ethic, I think medical school will be a place where she continues to thrive and succeed,” said Jessica Gustad, Peterson’s teammate and close friend. “It will be a world of new opportunities and challenges, and it will be a great fit for her.”

Aside from her studies, Peterson has also excelled in sports. Before she started doing the pentathlon, which she later set a record for, she was recruited for the high jump and was convinced she would not be a stand-out contributor.

“When I was recruited as a freshman, I came here on the track and field team; I knew in my head that I wasn’t going to be the biggest contributor because I thought I was coming in for high jump and there were so many other good high jumpers already here,” she said.

That same year, she learned new events in order to participate in both the pentathlon and heptathlon, and she formed a new community of friends because of her dedication to the sport.

“Being in this sport has opened me up to a completely different set of people that I don’t know if I would have been friends with otherwise,” Peterson said. “I think that’s amazing that I can be a part of all of these different groups, and it not only pushes me to succeed but opens me up to new experiences and people.”

As she reminisced on her time at GVSU, Peterson offered a piece of advice for first-year students and incoming freshmen. 

“You can find your niche anywhere here,” Peterson said. “You will find something that is yours while you’re here because there’s so much. It’s such a big community, but there so many small communities within it. You’ll be able to find something that you love and drives you. You just have to take the time to find it.”