Most of the year, Jimmy Peterson found himself typing away on his computer, working out the complexities of American foreign policy as part of his Masters in Political Science at SFU.
But on July 20, he had to shift his strategic thinking to basketball, where—as coach of the Canadian men’s Special Olympic basketball team—he flew to Los Angeles to help bring the team victory at the Special Olympics World Games.
At the Games—the world’s largest sporting event of 2015—Jimmy and his co-coaches Zak Klein, also a Cap U alumnus, and Jayne Baggott aimed to continue their team’s recent success. They qualified for the Olympics after their team, the Vancouver Grizzlies, won gold at the 2014 nationals.
“It was pretty surreal,” says Jimmy, describing their win over Ontario last year by one point.
But while preparing for the finals in Los Angeles, Jimmy had to first finish his masters degree, where he was studying the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.
Passion for political science
Jimmy started his academic career in Capilano’s commerce program, but soon shifted into political science. He made the decision after taking several political science courses that sparked his curiosity.
“The highlight of my time at Capilano was the relationships I made with the professors there,” he adds.
After Capilano, Jimmy finished his degree at SFU where he continued to study American foreign policy. At the end of his fourth year, he was awarded the Governor General’s Silver Medal for having one of the highest grade-point averages among SFU students.
This summer, he graduated with an MA in Political Science from SFU at the top of his class and with distinction. His thesis focused on the Obama Administrations economic and strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.
“It’s interesting because of the fundamental importance of US foreign policy to international security,” Jimmy explains.
But throughout his time at Capilano and at SFU, Jimmy never wavered in his commitment Special Olympics basketball.
Special Olympics North Shore
In 2006, Jimmy and his best friend Zak Klein started the Special Olympics North Shore basketball program while still students at Sutherland High School. Zak was motivated to get involved after a car accident limited his sports career. Jimmy wanted to support him with the team, and together with the help of Zak’s mom, Kelly Klein, a home share provider at Sutherland Secondary, they worked to create the team.
Jimmy had another motivation to get involved in Special Olympics basketball—his younger brother, Billy Peterson, had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age.
The family, who are originally from Japan, decided to move to Canada when Billy was three and Jimmy was four. The family felt that Canada is a more accepting and tolerant society for those with physical or intellectual challenges, and also believed that Billy could receive better medical treatment here. Doctors told Billy that if he didn’t strengthen his legs, he would probably be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
However, his older brother, Jimmy, was heavily involved in sports, and soon, Billy was playing with him.
“We played a lot of basketball together,” says Jimmy.
Jimmy would go on to coach Billy through the Special Olympics North Shore Basketball program while continuing his studies at Capilano and SFU.
Commitment to community
Jimmy’s intellectual passion is foreign policy, but it’s being involved in community—especially Special Olympics basketball—that truly inspires him.
“I’ve made a ton of lifelong friends,” he says. “Special Olympics is so different—the athletes celebrate each other, whether they are competing against each other or not.”
From July 25 until August 2, more than 7000 athletes from 177 countries descended on L.A. to compete in events from basketball to soccer to powerlifting. A whopping 30,000 volunteers helped to make the event a success.
Team Canada played for the bronze medal July 30, narrowly losing against Belgium, after having won games against Switzerland, Bhutan and Nigeria.
When the event is finished and Jimmy is back in Canada, he next plans to write the LSAT—in preparation for becoming a sports and entertainment lawyer.
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