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Scots triathlete Lesley Paterson reveals how she overcame demons and self-doubt to become world champion
Thursday, January 19, 2012 | by Daily Record UK |
WHEN Lesley Paterson was four she would imagine she was Zola Budd and having gone on to become a world champion, she has proved dreams can come true.
She is the best in the world at Xterra, an extreme triathlon, which includes a 1.5km swim in the ocean, 30km mountain biking and 11km trail run.
She is also a coach, an actress and film producer.
The journey to be such an all-round success has been hard and she has been plagued by such terrible self-doubt she feared it would crush her. But when Lesley, 31, falls she just picks herself back up.
She was always a tomboy and was never drawn to traditional female sports.
She grew up in Stirling and played rugby in a boys’ team from the age of seven.
“I was always really sporty as a kid. I remember watching Zola Budd when I was four and I used to practise in a nearby field, running around barefoot in the grass,” said Lesley.
She played for Stirling County Rugby Club until she was 12 – the only girl in Scotland playing rugby, and with 250 boys in the club.
“The boys either wanted to tackle me extra hard or were too scared to come near.”
Her father Alistair was sporty and got her into fell running when she gave up rugby.
She said: “I always loved to do anything that was muddy, gritty and adventurous. I loved the scenery, they were some of my best times. It is a very primal thing when you are running over the Scottish hills.”
When Alistair helped found the Stirling Triathlon Club, he roped in his daughter.
It became obvious, after a few wins, that she had a natural talent and she won the Scottish Championship. “I loved the way my body felt, I loved pushing myself to the limit,” said Lesley.
She was fiercely competitive and was always trying to beat her two sisters and brother. But in the 90s, triathlon changed its format and being an exceptional swimmer became essential.
Unfortunately, that was her weakness, so she started to lose races and failed to qualify for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
She was 20 and her confidence was gone.
“It got to the point where I hated it. I just got really disillusioned. Being a pro-athlete was all I had ever wanted to do.
“All that passion and desire was gone and I had no idea what to do with my life. I had to get away.”
She had studied English and drama at Loughborough University and when her husband Simon, a psychologist, got a chance to work in San Diego, she grasped the opportunity for a new start.
“I wanted to leave triathlon behind. Everyone knew I’d failed. No one knew me in San Diego so it was a chance to reinvent myself.”
She did a masters in theatre and acting and travelled to Los Angeles for roles.
She was in independent films and was the star of the video for singer David Gray’s Alibi.
With a renewed passion for life, she took up running again – for fun.
“I would just rock up to a little running event and have some fun with it. Then I got fitter and fitter and better and better.”
In the summer of 2007, she entered the Scottish Triathlon Championships but this time she didn’t have to win – even though that is exactly what happened.
“I had left the sport with such a sour taste that the real win was just to come back to enjoying it.”
It didn’t take long for the competitive spirit to return and when she discovered Xterra racing, she knew it would play to her strengths.
She trained hard and got an inspiring coach but the main thing was she had matured and wasn’t gripped by the fear of failure.
She got better with every race but juggling training with film work and a coaching job was tough.
Lesley set up her own production company, which has made an independent film and owns the rights to remake All Quiet On The Western Front with Mimi Leder, who directed The Peacemaker.
Lesley, who is also writing her own screenplays, said: “It does give me a thrill. It is different, it is very cerebral, it’s emotional and challenging.”
At one point, she was working full-time in a bike shop, training and doing her films.
She’d get up at 4.30am, drag her exercise bike on to the pavement and watch films on a laptop balanced on a dustbin. Lesley said: “People used to walk by and laugh.”
It was a brutal regime but worth it and she was reaching her peak in Xterra.
She picked up three victories in 2011 and was primed for the World Championships in Hawaii.
It is a mark of her determination that, despite a puncture and a fall, she reached the finishing line first, blood pouring down her leg. She was Xterra World Champion 2011.
“Any time I have a bad moment I remember what I’ve achieved and no one can take it away from me.
“It is so satisfying because it has been years of blood, sweat and tears. People don’t understand what it takes to make it happen.”
If being a world champ and film maker wasn’t enough she is also making a reality series, taking girls from all walks of life and training them to do their first triathlon.
She trains 40 hours a week and runs her own coaching school.
So what is the next big goal?
With her track record, it certainly can’t be ruled out.
Daily Record UK
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