Running the Good Race

Thursday, August 2 2012

MOSCOW, Idaho – She’s Danish, she’s British, she’s a Vandal; but when alumna Jessica Draskau-Petersson lines up for the Olympic marathon in London on Aug. 5, it’s her dad who will be the guiding hand in her race.

As her father, a rowing standout for Denmark during the 1950s, wages a courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Draskau-Petersson will run under her father’s native flag in his honor.

Her journey to London began in Idaho 12 years ago. In 2000, Draskau-Petersson was at a crossroads. A dual citizen of Denmark and the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown Dependency, she had finished law school in the United Kingdom, but couldn’t see herself as a London corporate lawyer. She wanted to find a bigger meaning for her life.

During her search, she won the Ella Olesen scholarship, which annually provides for a student from the Isle of Man to attend the University of Idaho. Olesen, a long-time U-Idaho registrar, provided a scholarship fund for students from her native island to experience Idaho. Draskau-Petersson earned a master’s degree in international politics and law in 2002.

“I loved my time at University of Idaho and met amazing people from all over the world,” through the university’s international program, said Draskau-Petersson. “I loved the spirit of the place. There was always something going on, and someone up for fun.”

It was her time on the Palouse that took her interest in running marathons to a new level. Friends loaned the athlete a bike and compelled her to enter a sprint triathlon in nearby Walla Walla, Wash. In her own words, she “became addicted.” Soon after, she entered Ironman Utah and Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Draskau-Petersson finished fifth overall among pros and amateurs combined in the 2003 Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

Following graduation, Draskau-Petersson competed as a professional triathlete in 13 Ironmans, but she endured multiple injuries from automobiles hitting her bicycle. In 2008, she resigned herself to knee surgery and then shifted gears into a career in human resources.  She spent two years working at London’s Olympic Park, one of the main sites of this summer’s Olympics, while it was still under construction.      

Draskau-Petersson’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, and his disease progressed rapidly by the spring of 2012. She wanted to give him something to look forward to, and came up with an audacious plan: She would represent his country in the Olympics.

Draskau-Petersson was no stranger to Denmark. She lived there for the first 13 years of her life before moving to her mother’s native isle. After running the London Marathon in 2:34:56 this April, the Danish Olympic Committee happily welcomed her to the Danish delegation headed for London.

True to form, Draskau-Petersson has made the transition from working stiff to full-time athlete in record time. A few weeks ago, she did the 9-to-5. Now, she trains from dawn to dusk. Tears in her calf muscles haven’t stopped her. On Aug. 5, this Vandal will carry the unconquerable spirit of Idaho with her in the women’s marathon. She runs not for fame, fortune or glory -- but for the love of her father.

For more information on Draskau-Petersson or the 2012 women’s Olympic marathon, please go to: or
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The University of Idaho inspires students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. Through the university’s $225 million Inspiring Futures capital campaign, private giving will enhance student learning, faculty research and innovation, and a spirit of enterprise. Learn more: