Austin Peterson of North Las Vegas was 11 when he picked up a baton, realizing he wanted to pursue his family tradition of baton twirling on a national scale.
“I’m a third generation,” Austin, 20, said. “It started with my grandmother back in 1941. She was the first Miss Majorette of America when they offered it back in 1954, and my mom twirled through her life and went on to nationals and won there. My two older brothers twirled, too.”
Twirling involves spinning a metal baton while simultaneously performing a coordinated routine. The act is a combination of dance, gymnastics and hand coordination that includes stunts such as backhand tosses and blind catches.
“I started basically when I was born,” said Harlie, Austin’s 13-year-old sister. “At 5, I fractured my shoulder in competition on the floor. I continued twirling until my routine was over, though. I waited until I got out of sight so I could go back to my mom. Most of us do that.”
In July, Austin and Harlie will take part in the United States Twirling Association’s national competition in Fairborn, Ohio. In August, they’ll paticipate in the 2019 Grand Prix competition in Limoges, France.
Austin’s and Harlie’s performances consist of a series of stunts, twists and turns with their batons. Austin is the men’s national collegiate twirling champion and Harlie is a six-time state champion and the preteen Miss Majorette of Nevada, according to their mother, Jonnie Peterson.
“For us it’s really a lifestyle more than anything,” she said of twirling. “I have a brother and sister who were both twirlers. We’ve kept the tradition going.”
The siblings train in Sacramento, California, twice a month, staying for up to two weeks, Austin said.
“We start at 8 o’clock in the morning and sometimes don’t get done till 8 at night,” Austin said.
The road hasn’t been easy for Austin, he said. In 2006, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Doctors told him he was two minutes from a diabetic coma when he reached the hospital.
“The struggle of battling with high blood sugar and low blood sugar and how much I could work before my sugar would crash — what to eat — all of that was just way, way, way different,” he said. “Through my twirling, I’ve managed to have a workout schedule — a training schedule to keep me fit and keep me healthy.”
Austin and his sister want to continue their family’s legacy of competing on a national level.
“I hope to see myself out there judging and starting my coaching career and definitely still doing performances,” he said. “I do some coaching already with young kids. I love watching them grow and thrive and learn.”