Childhood friend's suicide fuels jumper's athletic success


Kansas City junior long jumper Jake Peister sits in front of the landing pit on April 10 in the Indoor Athletic Complex.

Every time Jake Peister competes, he pays tribute to his childhood friend.

“I play for my best friend in high school who made the decision to take his own life,” Peister said.

Peister’s friend, Joey, was a sophomore when he committed suicide. Joey was a fellow triple jumper on Peister’s track team who was dedicated to his sport and never missed practice. Joey's passion for the sport has pushed Peister to excel on Central Michigan's track team as the seventh-ranked triple jumper in the Great Lakes Region.

When Joey didn't show up to practice one Friday, Peister and Joey’s brother Cole knew something was wrong.

They came home to find Joey had hung himself in his garage.

“His family came over and we took him down, then we called the police,” Peister said.

“(Cole and I) knew he had been bullied badly, and there had been a few attempts in the past. I thought that was all over. I was in the blind.”

Cole was one of Peister’s best friends growing up as next-door neighbors in Blue Springs, Missouri. Joey was two years younger than Cole, and the three of them became inseparable in high school.

“We came to each other’s houses for Christmas," Peister said. "They were like family to me. (Joey) was like my little brother.”

When Joey started high school during Cole and Peister’s junior year, Joey joined track, soccer and football so they could spend more time together.

Peister’s track team had a meet the day after Joey’s death. It would have been easy and understandable to sit out, overcome by grief to mourn his friend.

Instead, Peister decided to honor his friend’s memory by competing at his highest level.

At that meet, not 24 hours after his best friend’s suicide, Peister broke the state record in triple jump. He said that as uncanny as it sounds, it was the motivation of Joey’s death that allowed him to compete to the best of his ability.

Peister’s girlfriend, fellow sophomore and triple jumper Calli Stemple, says Peister still talks about Joey all the time.

“We met freshman year while living in the same dorm,” she said. “After a few weeks of dating him, he told me about his friend. It’s what motivates him to do his best.

“After he won the state title his senior year, he even put his medal on his gravestone. Even now he visits it all the time. That’s how big an impact Joey has on Jake’s life.”

After Joey’s death, Peister dedicates every facet of his life to his memory. Not just in track, but how he lives daily.

“I want to make decisions he’d be proud of me for,” Peister said. “Every time I compete, if I have a bad day or if I’m just grumpy, I remember to live my life for him. I would want him to be proud of everything I do.”

An example of Peister’s undying motivation to live his life in Joey’s memory is his dedication to church. The two went together every week, as it was a big part of Joey’s life.

Peister, along with a few other Central Michigan track student-athletes, pray before every meet and practice. This is just one way he memorializes his childhood best friend.

He, Cole and other high school friends also made a fundraiser for Joey’s mother, covering all of her funeral expenses. They have a scholarship for their high school for a single student voted upon by their peers.

With that thought forever scarred on Peister, he swears to be the best person he can be, because he knows words can affect everyone you meet. 

“I always wonder if there’s something more I could have done,” Peister said. “Maybe there was something more we could have done to help him.”