BILLINGS – Julia Peterson’s high school career got off to a flying start as a freshman.

Two runner-up finishes at the state swim meet last year – one to a potential future Olympian, and the other by .03 seconds with the state record in reach. But something was missing.

“I definitely was sad last year when I decided not to play (basketball), because I wanted to focus on swimming,” said Peterson. “And that was the only time in my life that I’ve ever solely done one sport.”

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The Billings Central sophomore has been swimming almost all her life, but she also loves basketball. The problem in Montana is that the sports are during the same high school season, so as a freshman, she felt she had to choose.

“When she decided to swim, I was ecstatic,” said Central swimming coach Robyn O’Nan, “because she’s a great individual to start with. She’s a wonderful person to work with.”

Peterson was everything O’Nan could have hoped for, but all wasn’t right. Medical issues popped up that threatened her swimming career, so Peterson started to think of a backup plan.

“I didn’t want to be sitting around at home, because I’m the type of person that likes to be out there doing stuff,” said Peterson. “So I was thinking if I need to be out of the water, basketball is definitely an option.”

When winter came around again, Peterson was healthier and wasn’t going to stay out of the pool. But that basketball hunger grew, and she got one final push.

“My dad told me, ‘If you want to play, this is your last chance,'” Peterson said, “and that kind of stuck with me. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my last chance ever to play basketball again!'”

So today, you can find Peterson in the pool and on the court, thanks to a coordinated effort.

“She has awesome support from her coaches, from me and the coaching staff here, to Jett (Ailes) and her coaching staff,” said O’Nan. “Her parents, her friends, and her teammates on both sides. I mean, she’s kind of got a really big family watching out for her.”

The real challenges are on the weekends. Two Saturdays ago, Peterson won the 200-meter freestyle at Rocky Mountain College, got out of the pool and into a car over to Central to help the Rams beat Sidney on the basketball floor.

“That was very hectic,” said Peterson. “The biggest concern for me is just time-wise – I was wishing I could stay at the meet a little bit longer and finish the rest of my events. It’s definitely hard, but it’s worth it. I enjoy doing it.”

Last weekend was even crazier. Peterson played in Laurel Friday night, then got up before the sun Saturday with her mom to drive to Missoula for a swim meet.

“Her coming to the meet on Saturday is one of those things to do whatever she could for the team,” explained O’Nan. “And that’s Julia.”

It’s been a long few months, with two weeks to go before this year’s state swim meet. But would she do it all over again?

“Oh, I absolutely love it,” gushed Peterson. “I think that’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

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