Peterson, originally from Alachua, Fla., spoke about the importance of having a solid foundation for kids, and about his recent published autobiography — “Don’t Dis My Ability” — which talks about his struggle to overcome a speech impediment.
After wrapping up an eight-year NFL career in 2010, Peterson focused on writing his book and began to speak to groups around the country. He performs community work and hosts an annual free youth football camp.
Peterson battled through college with a stutter in his speech pattern — going as far as to enroll in a public speaking course at Georgia Southern to combat his issue — and volunteers with children who struggle with similar speech impediments.
The book was created partly to serve as an inspiration to those in a similar position.
“I started my book seven years ago, off and on,” Peterson said. “I was receiving emails, letters, phone calls from speech therapists, teachers, parents about how I over came (my speech impediment) and became so willing to speak in the community and do events and not shy way from it. I decided then that I needed to go ahead and finish it up and share my story.”
Peterson said, at times, that it was difficult growing up and being different. But he said the dedication of his mother and her insistence that he practice regularly helped him not only speak better, but gain confidence in himself.
“Growing up, it was hard,” Peterson said. “Just like anything else, you have your good days where everything is going well. Then, you have bad days when you can’t hardly get a word out and everything is choppy, choppy, choppy. It’s more about having a strong foundation. A mom and dad who are always encouraging.”
Peterson said his dedication to speaking didn’t carry over to football. For him, they were completely separate areas.
Speaking was a constant battle. Football was just a few hours at a time.
“Speech was a battle that I faced every day, every minute, every second,” he said. “Sports was just for a season.”
Some of the more interesting parts of Peterson’s presentation Thursday came when the audience was able to ask questions.
In response to questions from the audience, Peterson said there was nothing like playing in the Super Bowl surrounded by flash bulbs — he was a special teams player and backup running back for Chicago when it played the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 — and when he moved from the warm climates of Florida and south Georgia to play for the Bears, his mother went shopping for his winter wardrobe.
“It was kind of funny,” he said. “I was 22 years old and my mom was doing my shopping.”
But in the end, Peterson thanked the community volunteers for all that they do to help kids and spent time signing autographs.
Peterson, who played at Georgia Southern from 1998-2001, holds numerous school, conference and Football Championship Subdivision records, and he won the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’ top offensive player in 1999. His older brother, Mike, is a veteran NFL linebacker, most recently with the Atlanta Falcons.
Also during Thursday’s banquet, the CRPA recognized a volunteer of the year for each group within the county. The honorees included Kelly Rice (Canton Baseball), Steve Diamond (Cherokee Hockey In-Line League), Steve Cook (Cherokee Reds), Cindy Young (Cherokee Saddle Club), Dan and Deb Baird (Cherokee Soccer Association), Don Vogt (Cherokee Summer Swim Association), Barbara Oslin (Cherokee Youth Basketball), Jamie Cantrell (Cherokee Youth Football Association), Scott Harike (Cherokee Youth Lacrosse Association), Debbie Cummings (Cherokee Youth Softball), Mary Mathena (Hobgood Baseball), Kevin Doyle (Macedonia Baseball), Shane Cowart (North Cherokee Youth Baseball), Susan Norton (North Cherokee Youth Softball), Bill Blount (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association), Trey Bridge (Special Pops Tennis), Shawn-tel Lay (Therapeutic Recreation), Todd and Amy Stormant (YMCA).
Diamond was named the CRPA Distinguished Volunteer of the Year for his work with the Cherokee Hockey In-Line League.