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How We Liv: Lesley Paterson’s Journey to Joy in Sport

Sport has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. I was born to be in the mountains, to play in the mud, and to churn through tough terrain. It all stems from having a very powerful internal drive for challenge and adversity – to find the hardest thing I could, and try to crack it.

I suppose this was how I calibrated my sense of accomplishment and proved to myself that I could do anything. Coming from a small town in Scotland, all I knew was I could work harder than anyone else and push myself further than others seemed willing to go. That mentality, I believed, would always get me places.  And so my path led me to pursue triathlon: a sport that at the time was seen to be hardcore, difficult, crazy and unusual. Perfect.

I quickly rose up the ranks, training hard and going on crazy adventures. I ran miles over the mountains with my dad, cycled all over Europe, drove hours just to swim in a 50m pool, and hung out with people three times my age. I was ostracized at school for not doing the things that other teenage girls were doing: shopping, drinking and partying. But I didn’t care.

I knew that I wanted something more for myself and I knew it would take special decisions. Some people call these decisions ‘sacrifices,’ but I’ve never been comfortable with that word. These were decisions that I made to pursue something that I loved so much. To me, that wasn’t a sacrifice at all. Staying in a job you hate – now that’s a sacrifice.

Lesley Paterson How We Liv

After pursuing the Olympic dream for 7 years, I failed to make the grade. I was not a fast enough swimmer. I was simply not good enough. The realization that working harder than everyone else wasn’t enough was a sobering and rude awakening. Even worse, my sport journey – one that began as a drive for challenge and adversity – had transitioned to results, squad places and funding. I no longer had passion and drive for it. I felt trapped, not to mention depressed and anxious.

And so I did what I knew got me there in the first place: I worked harder than anyone else to find a passion and to discover a new dream.

I moved to California with my husband and got a master’s degree in Theater. With the new direction, I was motivated and excited for life again. This journey – surprise, surprise – landed me right back in sport, but this time pursuing the gritty style of racing called XTERRA (off-road triathlon). Over the next 8 years, I would work with a new coach, discover a philosophy of training that better suited my personality, and win three world championship titles. I had finally become the athlete I always wanted to be!

With new found success came pressure, and pressure shares a bed with bad choices. Believing only in my ethos of hard work rather than working smarter, I started overreaching and eventually overtraining. Coupled with a diagnosis of Lyme’s disease, my mind and body started to fall apart. My new routine consisted of endless appointments with doctors and clinics and searching extensively to find out how to fix it all. I was miserable.

Lesley Paterson Braveheart

So I started yet another journey. This time my journey was more self-accepting. It was in search of something that is often elusive to many pro athletes: life balance and a healthy dose of being kind to your body. What a radical concept! My new philosophy was to get myself physically and mentally healthy to race with passion, enjoyment, and gratefulness while continuing to pursue my passion for film. Allowing my body enough time to heal allowed my mind can catch up and be creative and inspired. Creativity and sport is a symbiotic relationship for me. It’s my yin-yang.

So, what does #HowWeLiv mean to me? To me, it’s about owning your own successes and shortcomings. Looking at things that scare you, intimidate or worry you – and deciding to keep going anyway. This is the authentic life. It’s remarkably empowering to let sh*t go and support one another without judgment or expectation. Pay it forward, get it back. Go on, Liv a little.

-Les P.

Lesley Paterson How We Liv

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