Every person lives through those powerful moments that stick for a lifetime. Some because they are fantastic and we cherish them. And then there are the opposites, tragedies that hit us and people around us. Unfortunately, the latter ones seem to stick just a bit harder.
CSKA Moscow rookie forward Alec Peters will never forget one of those moments and all the sadness, fear and uncertainty he experienced that Sunday afternoon on November 17, 2013, during his freshmen season playing basketball at Valparaiso University.
"We just played a one o'clock game on Sunday and I remember we lost the game, too," Alec recalled the moments after the fourth game of the season against Ohio University. "I was already a little emotional after that, having not played that well and us losing."
However, Peters was only about to hear the truly bad news: "Immediately after the game, I had my coaches come over to me and they give me kind of a look you don't want to see somebody give you that might know something you don't know. And immediately your thoughts turn, something that wasn't good happened to somebody in my family."
The terrible news was that a devastating F4 tornado had ripped through his hometown of Washington, Illinois.
"I will never forget that hallway I sat in for probably 20 to 30 minutes, just crying."
"It dropped me to the floor. I got real emotional," Peters said. He soon learned his family was fine, but many friends lost their homes. "It was one of those moments I will never forget, but it is not for great reasons. I will never forget that hallway I sat in for probably 20 to 30 minutes, just crying, thinking about all the people that were affected."
It is often in those situations that our actions show our true build. On a bus ride back to college, Peters came to a decision that not many 18-year olds are willing, or ready, to make.
"I am from a small town where there is a lot of pride. One of those places where if you go to the grocery store, you are going to see somebody you know. It is a great prideful place, prideful in their sports teams," Peters explained. "The entire ride back to Valparaiso, I was thinking the whole time, looking at our schedule, when is the next game, what can I do between now and then to provide help and let people know I care about them and that I am thinking about them."
So, once he got back to campus, after the initial shock, Peters decided he was going to drive three hours home and see what he can do to help. A series of tornados killed three people, injured dozens of others and damaged over 1,000 homes, many of them left with nothing but debris.
"That town has done so much for me that I needed to go show support for them."
"That town has done so much for me that I needed to go show support for them," Peters said.
His parents, Jeff and Carrie, had immediately taken in a couple of their family friends whose house was completely destroyed and provided them with a place to stay for weeks to come. Simply put, that was the way in which Alec was brought up.
"My family is everything to me, and that kind of care has been passed on to me and my siblings," explained Alec, who has an older brother Austin, and two younger sisters, Ashlyn and Anne. He added that traveling home and helping out was an easy choice. "I'd gotten pictures, I saw a video in the news of all the damage, but I wanted to see for myself what this is really like. You hear about it and you think there is no way, no way that half a town can be completely reduced to nothing but a bunch of pieces of wood. It was like a bomb went off."
Peters, like everybody else in the entire town, spent a day mostly helping friends sift through debris and recover little things, like pictures and photos, some of those irreplaceable mementos they could hold on to. It was hard to leave home the next day and go back to school, but Peters thankfully had basketball. It not only helped him focus on something else for parts of the day, but he discovered what a great deal his success meant to the people back home. So his way of giving back continued on the basketball floor. That very next game, Peters scored 30 points in a loss against Evansville and dedicated his performance to his hometown.
"I would say that was the only game in my life where losing did not trump my individual performance," Peters admitted. "I cared about that game, I cared more about what I did individually because I knew that's what people were watching, that's what people were relying upon. I had people tell me, who just lost their house, 'hey, I am looking forward to watching you in Evansville.' That really hit home with me, that impact I can have."
To this day, that might still be the most emotional game of his entire career.
"I put a pressure on myself that I have to play well," he said. "To have it actually materialize and to have that kind of game, even though we lost, it was all people wanted to talk about with me. 'You just lost your house and you want to talk to me about basketball?' It was amazing, amazing."
Needless to say, such events put things in perspective, make one think about the importance of family and how short life is. For Peters, it was no different.
"It is so cliché to say that, but at the same time to actually go and see things, houses that were built over time, families that have collected things over time, pictures, and in a matter of five minutes it can all just be – gone. There is nothing you can do," he explained. "A picture does not describe it. When you set foot and you see everything they built, memories they had completely wasted away in a matter of minutes. It is just unbelievable."
During the following summer, Peters took his Valparaiso teammates and coaches to his hometown of Washington. They all got on the bus one morning, drove three hours and spent a day doing a couple of projects, including building a playground set for a family whose home was devastated.
“I am sure [my teammates] were not the most excited getting on the bus and driving three hours to go build something, then drive back, but they understood what it meant to me, and they were super supportive about it. And I know they got something out of it, as well," he said.
Part of this loyalty and a strong sense of community comes from Peters's upbringing. So does his work ethic.
His father grew up on a farm that his great grandfather ran and which has been passed on from one generation to another. Peters spent summers with his siblings and cousins on that farm, doing odd jobs to help out. At a young age, they all learned about responsibilities.
"You can't always achieve perfection, but you can sure try."
"You develop efficiency, you develop what it really means to put in a hard day's work. Kind of what my grandpa instilled in my father and my father had instilled in me is that you can't always achieve perfection, but you can sure try," Peters said. "You are going to make mistakes, you are going to mess up. Sometimes you can't help with the result, sometimes if you can't get it done the right way you got to let it eat at you, you got to let it get at you, because then the next time you'll learn. You will learn to do it better. They continue to preach that to me today."
That not only turned him into a loyal man, but also translated to how he approaches basketball.
"This is what you do for a living. You have to take it seriously, you have to approach it with every detail, every ounce of hard work you possibly can," Peters said. "At the end of the day, if you want to get the most out of what you want to be as a basketball player, you don't have any other choice but to set foot on the court and do your best."