‘Old Man Pete’
English teacher Peter White spends his off days in the kickboxing ring
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It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. English teacher Peter ‘Old Man Pete’ White wakes up to the tune of “The Dream Remains the Same,” by Tangerine Dream while his iPod is buzzing. He goes through his usual routine which ends with waking up his daughter. The two then leave the house at 8 a.m. Every time he leaves his house, he isn’t just going anywhere. Rather, he is facing a fear, the same fear that has been haunting him ever since his senior year in high school.
In 1975, White entered high school and began his first steps to where he is now.
White started wrestling during his freshman year. He was 5 feet tall and 92 pounds, putting him in the lightest weight class.
He lost every single match.
Over the following summer, he gained 15 pounds and that next season he wrestled in the second lightest weight class. He improved and got two wins that year.
Between his sophomore and junior year he put on another 15 pounds and had a break-even record.
When his senior year came he made a choice – a choice that would haunt him.
“I chose not to wrestle my senior year and the main reason I did that was because of this new kid that wanted to wrestle, David Saldivar. The guy could do 50 dips and I forget how many pull ups, and he was my weight class. I was like, ‘I can’t wrestle varsity for three years and then go JV my senior year.’ I just couldn’t do it.”
White quit wrestling before the tryouts in his senior year and subsequently set off a chain reaction that would gnaw at him for years.
“That’s the genesis of it all because that failure to face my fear has eaten at me ever since. That was 1978, before I graduated in ’79, so it’s almost been 30 years.”
But like most great stories, there is always a silver lining.
“For me, what that ended up being was that it drove me,” White said. “I’ve always been physically active, I’m in good shape for 53 [years-old]. I’ve always done the weight lifting, the Tai Chi, the mountain climbing, the whatever.”
Coincidentally, he started around the time the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), now the largest mixed martial arts promotion company featuring most of the top ranked fighters, started to gain popularity.
“I barely paid attention to it. It was the ’90s, I was married, doing that kind of thing,” White said.
As the UFC kept growing, White became more attracted to it until it finally hit him in 2007.
“When the UFC started getting really big, I thought, ‘s—, I’ve got to do this,’” he said. “I’ve got to go back and wrestle. I can’t not do it anymore because that failure of not being able to step up has been eating at me for all these years.”
White chose to kickbox at Charlie’s Combat Club because it was close and not as daunting as the other gyms.
Kickboxing was definitely not easy, especially during a time when White was experiencing the golden years of parenting.
“I was very in and out,” White said. “In 2007-08, this guy picked me up by my head and threw me down, I got whiplash. And so, I thought ‘screw this, my kids are little, I’m missing every Saturday from my kids and I feel like I’m missing out on my kids.’”
White would take a long break until 2009 when he learned that he could take private lessons at Charlie’s.
During all of his private training, White would sustain a broken rib while wrestling and be forced to take a leave of absence from the sport to recover.
“I kind of used it as another excuse to take some more time off,” he said. “I kind of let the six weeks grow into six months until it started to eat at me again.”
White returned and was referred to a new coach, Jake Furney. Along with this comeback came a new, strict regimen.
“For several weeks, I was truly only a weekend warrior,” White said. “I would come in at 9 a.m. and then Jake and I would spar, then I would take the kickboxing class from 10-11 a.m., and then I would take the submission class from 11 a.m. to noon. I was pretty much toast by the end of the three hours, but that was it. That was my Saturday routine.”
White mostly went on Saturdays due to a comfortable schedule and to avoid missing out on time with his kids. That is, until his daughter started getting interested in kickboxing.
“My daughter got interested in [kickboxing] and would come with me,” White said. “My daughter would come and [we would] grapple and kickbox together. Now that she was coming, I decided to do a little more. We started doing Thursday nights and Saturdays.”
White began attending even more kickboxing classes when Charlie’s implemented a levels system to the club, which fueled White to get past level one. Due to age and attrition and the sheer physicality of kickboxing, White has been forced to take breaks due to injuries.
These include injuries such as a separated rib, a torn pectoral muscle, a torn tendon in his left foot and, currently, a broken foot.
Even after suffering all these injuries, White still goes back to train once he’s healthy again.
“I think everyone should do something that frightens them,” White said. “Being scared is moving yourself out of your comfort zone and that’s what I like about it more than anything else. I have to face the fact that I’m old and slow, but you’re not just going to curl up and whimper. You’ve got to step up and do something.”
White has not only faced his fears, he is also turning his own story into a lesson for his students.
“The one message I have from all of this is that I have found in my life that it’s always best to face your fears, whatever it is that you’re afraid of,” White said. “If you face it, you can leave with your head held up. If I had let David Saldivar take my spot by doing my absolute best, yeah, it would’ve hurt and been humiliating, but I did my best. And I tell my own children this, you want to do something in your life that makes you both excited and scared because that means you’re growing and if you’re not growing, you’re stagnant. When I drive up, there’s still a little thing in my stomach where I’m still a little nervous about this.”
Despite all the injuries he’s had and his age, ‘Old Man Pete,’ as he’s known by his mates at Charlie’s, is determined to keep kickboxing until his body completely gives out – whenever that may be.
All of this stemmed from a single decision that caused a whole ton of regret.
“You’ll never regret facing your fears and doing your best, but you’ll always regret backing down,” White said.
“That’ll always eat at you.”