His family and friends call him the “famous Mormon”.
Returned missionary Peter Cowan became a hero to many after his inspiring story was featured in a talk to a worldwide audience of over two million people.
But the 21-year-old is brushing off all the attention.
“I feel kind of goofy about it,” he said.
“I try and shy away from any recognition… I never thought it was a big deal, I was just doing my part. I don’t know how to take compliments.”
“Some people were sweet, they said they were so touched. It means a lot to me.”
Former Mission President Kazuhiko Yamashita spoke about Cowan in his General Conference talk ‘Ambitious for Christ.’
Yamashita shared Cowan’s experience of overcoming the challenge of serving a mission in Japan with a prosthetic leg.
“I am proud not only of Elder Cowan but also of all the missionaries throughout the world who serve willingly without murmuring or complaining,” Yamashita said.
But Cowan almost didn’t serve a mission after his bike accident resulted in him losing a leg.
While training for the IronMaori triathlon six years ago, Peter’s bike collided with an oncoming car.
“I thought I might actually die,” he said.
“Afterwards, I was told I wouldn’t be able to play sports or walk so I thought my mission dream was over. I hadn’t heard about any other amputee on a mission.
“I was trying to be ‘Mister Optimistic’ but it cut me pretty deep. I couldn’t participate or do anything.”
Cowan said the accident only boosted his desire to serve.
“I found myself praying more, to accept it and try and find peace. Never before did I have to rely more on the Lord. “
He certainly wasn’t expecting to serve in Japan, a mission where riding a bike was a requirement.
“My Mission President asked me if I was okay to ride a bike and I just said, ‘should be okay’.”
Despite Cowan spending hours at the gym in preparation for his mission, his prosthetic leg broke multiple times while in Japan.
After six months, he was re-assigned to the Australia Sydney South Mission where a car was available to use.
“After hanging up the phone with my Mission President and hearing the news, I just wanted to crawl up in a little ball and cry.
“I was freaking out, in all honesty it’s something you don’t want to hear. My heart just dropped. I wanted to stay. But as I made my way to the mission office I felt peace and contentment. I was reassured it was going to be okay.”
Proud Mum Geraldine says she was “surprised” when she heard Peter’s name mentioned in General Conference.
“We didn’t know about it before hand,” she said.
“I was with Peter’s younger brother and sister at my sister’s home in Australia. My sister’s family are all inactive and we got to watch it together.
“There was not one dry eye in the room.
As a mum it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Better than a child representing your country in a sport or a mission call. It’s a different proudness that I’ve never experienced before.”
And Mum Geraldine knows all about mission calls.
While Cowan was in Sydney South, his twin brother Chesser was in the Philippines and younger brother Benjamin in Sydney North, Australia serving a mission.
“It left a bit of loneliness as each one left,” Geraldine said.
“But when you have a calling as a mother, your personal aspirations change. Your aspirations and goals are that your children’ aspirations are achieved.
“Every day I would wake up and know that I had three sons on a mission. And you couldn't ask for anything greater than that. “
Cowan returned from his mission to his hometown Hastings last August.
He finished the Waka Ama national sprints in January and placed second.
The aspiring teacher tutors the Kapa haka group at his former high school Hastings Boys High School and plans to go to university this year.
But the sports enthusiast still has one more goal on his bucket list.
“I want to give Paralympics a go,” he says.
“I got a chance to try on a running blade last November and it was cool.
“I want to give people a little bit hope. People think hope is lost for this kind of life but it’s not. I want to inspire people along the way.”
Cowan says his motivation is simple.
“I look back on the Saviors suffering and what He went through for us. That was my motivation for getting through it all. Once I thought about it I realised, heck this is nothing. All I got was a blister on my leg, getting sent home and I’m crying. The Saviour had it worse.”
Elder Cowan with President and Sister Yamashita
Elder Cowan on his mission in Sydney, Australia
Peter with his mother, Geraldine, and his twin brother, Chesser
Peter Cowan loves to participate in Waka Ama