Boise Olympic legend leaves legacy on and off the mountain

When Jeret "Speedy" Peterson took his own life in 2011, he left behind a lasting legacy that is changing lives for people who suffer from depression.

BOISE - Weeks after Jeret "Speedy" Peterson won silver in the 2010 Vancouver Games, he was given a hero's welcome in his hometown, with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter awarding him a key to the ciy.

Peterson, who landed the biggest and most difficult trick in aerials history - the Hurricane - was king in his hometown.

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His smile, his charisma, his ability to light up a room was captivating.

But it was also a mask for the depression he was dealing with below the surface.

"There was evidence, whether it be a broken TV or something else he destroyed, and then there’s this happy, jolly, larger-than-life presence - there was something going on and there was anger and frustration," said Shannon Decker, Peterson's cousin.

Decker, and others close to him, saw the red flags.

But they never dreamed in the final week in July of 2011 they would get the news that he gave into his demons, taking his own life.

His mother, Linda, along with his closest friends and other family members, in a search for understanding, started a nonprofit organization called The Speedy Foundation.

It provided the seed money from donations received at his memorial and other events to restart Idaho's defunct Suicide Prevention Hotline - a program that is now government-funded and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But it didn't stop there.

Linda Peterson along with Decker, who became the executive director of the Speedy Foundation, signed up for a two-day mental health training and awareness class to educate themselves about the issue.

They both said the results were life changing.

"We just kept looking at each other going, 'hello? This is him!’ This was us! This is what we didn't know,'" Decker said. "Had we known this three years ago we would have known what to do."

They took what they learned to the U.S. Ski Team to give officials and coaches the signs to watch for in a sport that can run the gamut of emotions for its athletes.

"It is really tough, you get put on this big stage and you experience these unbelievable highs with all the attention and the rush of the sport," said Mac Bohonnon, a two-time Olympic aerialist.

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Bohonnan knows what happens when the bright lights dim, which can breed loneliness and depression for athletes.

He trained with Speedy while coming up on the Olympic developmental squad, and says suicide awareness is now something that is out in the open on the team.

"Ever since July of 2011 the awareness has continued to grow and evolve," Bohonnan said. "I think it’s really challenging because for many years there was a pretty big stigma there and not much of a conversation, and most noticeably the last two years or so we've really begun to see more of a conversation."

Bohonnan said he plans to honor Speedy by attempting the Hurricane in PyeongChang, in hopes of sparking more conversation about the man he idolized.

MORE: The Hurricane lives on: Utah skier may attempt Speedy's death-defying jump

That conversation also includes an action plan to help stop something that took one of Idaho's best- loved Olympians from ever happening again.

"If you have that gut feeling that something is wrong, the best way to prevent suicide is to ask someone directly and that’s something we didn't know when Speedy passed," Decker said. "It’s a lesson learned.”

Speedy is gone, but his legacy lives on - both on and off the mountain.

If you or someone you know is struggling and need immediate help, call or text the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-HELP (4357). Decker says you don't have to be suicidal to call the hotline. You can call the hotline if you're concerned about someone who might be going though a mental health challenge or crisis. The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline can help with that, too.