A version of this story first appeared in the 2023 issue of On Call, a publication of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing.
Jason Peter was 4 when he rode his first rollercoaster—Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“I remember screaming, and I remember we had to go on it several times,” he recalled.
Several times because he wanted to ride it again and again.
The again-and-again love has never dimmed and, in fact, has become one of the bright lights in Peter’s life. At this point, 40 years after that first thrill, he has ridden 751 different rollercoasters, a number that includes rides in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico and Guatemala.
The Mary B. Jackson assistant professor in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing, Peter said his two sisters, nieces and nephews sometimes will meet him at theme parks for a rollercoaster ride or two, “but they’re not my level.”
“I’m the only one that’s a proclaimed rollercoaster enthusiast where I actually travel around,” said Peter, who’s also a family nurse practitioner and studying for a doctorate.
“I don’t go primarily for the rollercoasters, but that’s definitely something I plan the trips around. Mexico and Guatemala were strictly a rollercoaster trip, then other activities were planned around it.”
He hasn’t been on a coaster “in a while,” he said, but admits that a month is “a while” to him.
“I’ll usually go to Six Flags over Georgia or Dollywood every couple of weeks,” he explained.
Whether a rollercoaster is top-notch depends on a series of factors, he said. Speed is one. Uniqueness of the ride another. What does it have that makes it stand out? Is it multiple inversions—upsidedown rollovers? Is it height? Do you plunge into tunnels then zoom back out?
Another consideration is “airtime,” a coaster enthusiast’s term for how long your body is lifted from the seat.
“I guess it’s all just the surprise of how the elements feel,” Peter said.
“The surprise of how they feel will really kind of get me laughing or giggling. The happiness, the freedom. Your hands up or whatever. To kind of have a release.”
His favorite rollercoasters are in Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion, both in Virginia; Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida; Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Although his 700-plus coaster rides might seem to make it impossible to choose his favorite, Peter comes up with one instantly: The Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion just north of Richmond, Virginia.
It starts with a climb up 305-foot hill then plunges into a series of this-way-then-thatway curves that whip riders at 90-degree angles to the ground. At 90 mph, Intimidator is all over in a little more than one minute.
It’s so fierce, it has rules about who can ride. It prohibits those with: Recent surgery, heart trouble/high blood pressure, neck trouble, back trouble, pregnant and any physical conditions that may be aggravated by the ride.
After it was first built, Peter said, the ride had to modified because it changed direction so quickly, some riders were “graying out,” as in losing consciousness for a few seconds.
Like athletes, rollercoaster enthusiasts know that you need to drink a lot of fluids before riding, especially if it’s an especially rough ride, Peter said.
As for his bucket-list parks, his No. 1 is England’s Alton Park, which is surrounded by green landscapes and stone-built castles.
“It’s just such a beautiful area,” he said, “and they cannot build anything higher than the tree line.”
To meet those building codes, the rollercoasters have tunnels and gullies cut into the ground, he said. Alton Park also has what some considered one of the best coasters in the world—The Smiler —which has 14 inversions and hits speeds up to 53 mph.
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