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From nuclear engineer to outdoor writer

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BY WIL MacALLISTER
When you meet Peter Schroeder there are two unmistakable things you immediately learn, he’s personable and as you’d expect from a former nuclear engineer, he’s intelligent.
Lisa Densmore remembers meeting Schroeder while attending her first Outdoor Writers Association of America conference. Densmore, an Emmy-winning television host and producer, said she loved his outgoing and warm-welcoming nature.
“When you meet him it’s easy to tell he’s a bright and perceptive man,” Densmore said.
Schroeder grew up in Louisville, Ky., and he said that as a boy he was fanatic about hunting and fishing. As he grew into his young adult years he hit a point where he felt he had already done it all; hunted all the game and fished all the fish. Schroeder needed more purpose in his life and found that through pursuing an education in science.
He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University and later a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of New Mexico. Schroeder worked on many nuclear-related projects focused on United States military and defense. He worked at Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site, previously named the Nevada Test Site.
He decided to leave the field in his late twenties due to conflicted feelings about the destructive power behind nuclear work, stating that, “The physics was wonderful but the end result was disturbing.”
Schroeder went on to receive his master’s in business administration from Stanford University and combined other interests to start international businesses. They were largely environmental projects and took place in many countries including Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Australia.
Such projects ranged from developing a plastic product used to line industrial waste bins that prevent damaging environmental problems to creating sealing plastics for Airbus, a European aerospace company that has produced almost half of the world’s jet airliners.
Schroeder began having pains in his back in his late thirties that escalated to being too painful to walk. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer in the plasma cells in bone marrow believed to be a side-effect of his time exposed to radiation while at the various nuclear research facilities. The doctors said it was terminal and that he only had several years to live.
“Diseases come from the way that you live so when I was diagnosed with cancer I decided I needed to change everything about my life,” he said.
Schroeder decided to make major life changes and traveled the world for healing. He eventually found himself in India where he stayed with a mystic healer for three years. The mystic healer taught Schroeder that cancer is just a name and when people are faced with death they react in three different ways: they accept, reject or ignore it.
Through his time spent with the mystic healer, he came to terms with his mortality, at which point the mystic healer told him, “If you want to die now, you can.”
Schroeder decided to live and he returned to the U.S.
Combining his love for writing and passion for the outdoors and traveling, Schroeder became a freelance journalist, which is a career path he continues to follow. His main topics of coverage are winter sports, destination charter sailing, scuba diving and adventure travel.
Schroeder said that he is most proud of a series of stories on Puget Sound that helped lead to the protection of the Wolf Eel and enjoys working on an annual western snow sports guide.
“Good stories are stories that have an angle that no one else has found,” he said, also adding that you need “juicy quotes.”
Risa Wyatt, a freelance journalist, said, “Peter has a zest for life and wants to make every moment count.”
“He’s inquisitive and smart, loves researching and becoming a semi-expert on the topic that he’s writing about and sharing with the reader.”
Schroeder has four children; twin sons who are both engineers and two daughters, one a wildlife biologist and the other a family therapist.
Also, Wyatt jokingly said, “Expect to see joint bylines in the future.” Wyatt and Schroeder were married Nov. 25.
Wyatt first met Schroeder in 2003 while on a skiing trip in Italy for Alpine Adventure. She said her first impression of Schroeder was, “he was a good looking guy in a red jacket.”
The next day she said she learned the most important thing, that he was a good looking guy in a red jacket who could ski well. ♦
—Born and raised in New Hampshire, Wil MacAllister has been in Montana for five years while completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is the fall semester intern at OWAA headquarters. Contact MacAllister at wmacallister@owaa.org.
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