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“I had in my mind from the moment I got out of surgery that I was going to be back, that I was going to be good and healthy,” Peterson said.

In three weeks, he was walking. After six weeks, he began to jog in the pool. At eight weeks, he was sprinting, with the jets turned on for resistance. Then, 10 weeks after the operation, he ran on hard ground for the first time. Peterson and Sugarman were the only people on the indoor field at Winter Park that day.

“The first time I have a guy run after an ACL, they look like they have marbles in their shoe,” Sugarman said. “He probably had done it on his own without telling me before that, I would guess. But the guy took off and ran across the field like, `Whoa! He looks totally normal.’ This isn’t supposed to happen. So that was awesome.”

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The spring and summer:

On the first day of the team’s conditioning program in late April, the players lined up for sprints. Peterson was working with Sugarman on the side when he saw what was going on. Granted permission to participate, Peterson jumped in line with the rest of the runners. His exhausted teammates wore expressions of disbelief.

“He finished in first four different times,” head coach Leslie Frazier said.

Peterson also spent time at his offseason home in Houston, where he worked with physical therapist Russ Paine at the Memorial Herrmann Sports Medicine Institute. Paine picked up where Sugarman and his staff left off.

When Peterson showed up for his sessions at the clinic, the other athletes rehabbing there stared in amazement as he sprinted at the top speed levels of the treadmill. When he lined himself up at the leg press machine, he asked that the prescribed weight be doubled.

“I really wasn’t playing around. I was on a mission,” he said.

After 14 weeks, the drills advanced. Sugarman rolled a soccer ball as Peterson shuffled from side to side in a sand pit, trying to catch it like a goalie and throw it back in the same motion. He ran tight circles around hula hoops on the turf. He sprinted forward as Sugarman held him back with a bungee cord. Sometimes, for fun, they chased each other around the training room on stools with wheels so Peterson could strengthen his hamstring muscles. Or they’d stand on small red discs and toss a ball back and forth.

“He was terrible at it. He just hates to lose at anything,” Sugarman said. “So it’s great when I can beat him at something.”

Peterson started training camp in Mankato, Minn., on the physically unable to perform list. His protest unsuccessful, he realized the importance of taking the process slowly. Those precious last few degrees of flexion in the knee took several months to return. The cutting, stopping and restarting he has to do for his job required nothing less than the full explosive ability of the joint. The muscles around the knee that atrophied after the surgery needed to be recalibrated, with quadriceps, hamstrings and calves in the proper strength proportion to one another.

Peterson began to be integrated into practice, though, with fans and coaches holding their breaths,

“He just dominated the rehab. It was ridiculous,” Sugarman said.

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