PROVO A Provo Canyon car accident early Friday morning claimed the life of a blossoming Brigham Young University track athlete and critically injured a former BYU track star with Olympic aspirations.
Chelsi Petersen, 20, was riding with Olympic sprinter hopeful Paul Smith, 24, when they turned left off U.S. 189 in Provo Canyon toward Squaw Peak Road in front of an oncoming car just after midnight.
Petersen was killed and Smith was injured, hospitalized in critical but stable condition with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken clavicle.
Petersen, a St. George native who competed at Dixie High School, was the girlfriend of BYU quarterback James Lark, who is currently serving an LDS Church mission.
Friends and coaches of Petersen gathered Friday to console each other and reminisce about their freshman teammate.
"They called us the twins," said Mindy Robins, Petersen's best friend and a fellow freshman teammate. "We were always together. We were best friends."
Robins said they went to dinner together and got ice cream at least once a week after spending hours training.
Both freshmen competed in the heptathlon, a seven-event competition that includes the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, then the next day the long jump, the javelin and an 800-meter run.
"We helped each other, we pushed each other," Robins said, tears filling her eyes. "I can't even imagine what it's going to be like without her."
The team is gathering photos to make a memory book and quilt for Petersen's family, Robins said.
Assistant track and field coach and Petersen's event coach, Dick Legas, said he wants to honor Petersen by presenting her family with a letter blanket the traditional senior gift with a giant Y, Chelsi's name and the year she competed with BYU track.
Legas said despite her young age, Petersen had a sparkling personality and an incredible work ethic, practicing often above and beyond what was asked of her.
"She (was becoming) a team leader without trying to be," he said.
Legas said they often talked about what Petersen planned to do with her life. He said she was madly in love with her high school sweetheart, Lark, who starred at crosstown rival Pine View High and redshirted with the BYU football team in 2006 before leaving on his LDS mission following the 2007 season.
"She said, 'I am going to be here for him when he comes back,' so that's an extra heartache," Legas said.
BYU men's track coach Mark Robison met with Smith Friday morning and said his physical recovery would most likely be the easiest part of the healing process. It is the emotional healing that will most likely take much longer.
Smith was expected to run in the 200-meter dash during the Olympic trials that begin in three weeks in Eugene, Ore.
"He trains hard and is a really successful track athlete," said Robison. "He is running right now as well as he has ever run in his life, but he struggled with working full-time and trying to train and do some coaching on the side. In track and field, it is tough to keep your career going."
Smith is from Las Vegas, and although not a member of the LDS Church, he enjoyed his time at BYU and embraced the area wholeheartedly, Robison said.
"Provo was a huge change for Paul, but he just fit in," Robison said. "It was different, but he liked it here, and that was why he stayed, and I would imagine he will continue to stay."29 comments on this story
Team captain and recent BYU graduate Nicole Rasmussen said she appreciated the time she got to spend with Petersen and admired her dedication to performance improvement.
"She was famous for making jokes about the Olympics," Rasmussen said, then quoted Petersen's quasi tongue-in-cheek phrases: "'This is for Bejing,' or 'When I was in Athens.' So we called her Athens, Bejing. It was always her motivation."
Petersen, the oldest of three children, was studying exercise science.Funeral plans have not yet been announced, although the team plans to travel to St. George.