The Olympics: Trading Desk Hero?

Aelin Peterson's unusual trek to a U.S. Olympic ski team

When the Winter Olympics kick off on Feb. 8, there will be the usual suspects to root for. Sequined ice queens. Cool-dude snowboarders. Burly hockey players named Igor or Jacques. But whom should the hardworking, unemployment-fearing suits and pantsuits of Corporate America cheer on? Whom can the masses of stressed-out Palm Pilot slaves relate to? Whom can The Street call its own?

Meet Aelin Peterson, a former eat-at-your-desk equities trader who got flabby as hell and chose not to take it anymore. So Peterson pushed herself away from three computer screens and a $65,000-a-year paycheck--with much more to come--and made the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team.

Raised in a tiny Alaskan village, Peterson learned to skate on the frozen Bering Sea--and ski cross-country. By high school, her family had moved to Fairbanks, where she became a teenage standout. At Northern Michigan University, Peterson majored in economics and made it to the World University Games. But a bout with viral meningitis and competitive burnout seemed to end her career at age 20. "My body was just done," says Peterson, now 27.

On to Boston she went as an intern at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., the investment bank. Peterson was looking to be hired full-time but got to thinking about those days by the Bering Sea. She got an itch to become an Olympic speed skater. "I've always been a risk-taker," she says. Without a job, car, or apartment, she moved to Milwaukee, which has one of the nation's few Olympic-sized skating ovals.

To support herself as she trained, Peterson found work at Milwaukee-based Strong Capital Management, answering calls about Grandma's mutual fund. The speed-skating lark went nowhere, but within a year she had climbed to a junior trader position, learning at the elbow of Strong's then-trading director, David Braaten. "We look for people with a high level of commitment to do their best and a passion," says Braaten. "Aelin just radiated all of that."

Into the office at 5:30 a.m., she would check foreign markets, scan financial news, and warm up for the day's trading race. "She was our eyes and ears," says Braaten. For three years, Peterson was on a fast track. But something was missing. "I was very unhealthy," she says. "My body told me that I needed racing again." Her mind sent messages, too: "Skiing reentered my life at night. In my dreams, I was racing or training."

Peterson didn't need a shrink to interpret her dreams, and Braaten couldn't muster a counteroffer. "She told me she wanted to be in the Olympics," he says. "I was astounded. But she had to follow that dream."

Barely 15 months ago, Peterson moved back to Alaska, entered her first race in four years, and finished last. She kept plugging, though, even after running through $30,000 in savings. By the end of January's national championships, Peterson was the fourth-ranked woman in America and earned one of eight spots on the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team.

"How many working women are able to take a risk like this?" Peterson asks. "I know I've been given a luxury. But if other working women have some unfulfilled goals that have been sadly tucked away, I would like to think that they would see me and take a shot at their own dreams."

Or, at least, root for Aelin Peterson, who may have made the most profitable trade of her career: stocks for--could it be?--a precious medal.

By Jay Weiner in Minneapolis

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