Lesley Paterson: Stirling, South Pacific, Hollywood

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Lesley Paterson
Lesley Paterson also works as a triathlon coach

Giggling at the absurdity of her swimming with one arm, Lesley Paterson does not sound like the sort to race a triathlon with a broken shoulder.

Or to break a hand and arm and then return to win a race six weeks later either.

Never mind fire ozone - a form of oxygen - up her own backside just to get to the startline in the first place.

And - in a way - she isn't.

"I create my own alter-ego as an athlete - essentially I am playing a character out there," the 35-year-old tells BBC Sport.

"I found that me as Lesley Paterson - nice, chatty, 'no, no, no, you go first' - doesn't work. This alter ego allows me to get feisty, angry, aggressive and be less nervous.

"I think about everything - the character traits, the things I wear, certain things I do before the race. It is like method acting.

Lesley Paterson
The Xterra world championships consist of a 1.5km rough-water swim, a 20-mile mountain bike ride that climbs almost 3,000 feet and a 6.5 mile trail run

"My husband knows that that character sometimes crosses over - I can be a bit of a bitch before racing!"

It may be a character that she is playing, but it is Paterson's name on three triathlon world titles.

She specialises in cross-country triathlon, fighting her way through choppy seas, up mountains and along muddy trails to the ITU Cross World title in 2012 and Xterra world crowns in 2011 and 2012.

On Sunday, in Hawaii, she will aim to add a third Xterra world title to the European title she won in August.external-link

From Stirling to the South Pacific...

The pineapple fields and soft white sand of the south Pacific are a long way from the rugby pitches of her native Stirling.

But Paterson believes that mixing it with the boys in mini-rugby as a girl toughened her into the athlete that she is today.

"I played for Stirling County from the age of about seven to 12. It was me and about 250 boys each weekend," she explains.

"I walked out on the field and they were all laughing and giggling at me. I had to suck it up and show them that I was just as good and hard as them.

"After rugby I did 'regular' triathlon, but that has become a bit poseur-y. Everyone has got all the gear, it is kind of clinical, a little bit sterile.

"Xterra is gritty, filthy, dirty, with a lot of heart. It has brought me everything that I had in rugby - that grittiness, that muddiness, that camaraderie."

...via Hollywood

It is glitter- not grit - that characterises Paterson's life away from triathlon.

After combining training with an undergraduate degree in drama at Loughborough University, she moved to the United States, doing a Masters in Theatre at San Diego State University.

An acting career followed with parts in a series of independent productions - including the lead in a David Gray music video.external-link

Lesley Paterson
Lesley Paterson overcame a mechanical issue with her bike to win the ITU Cross World Championships in 2012

It seems an unlikely mix - there are not many world champions with an extensive IMDB entryexternal-link - but Paterson says that it helped her sporting career - and not just making by making that startline persona more convincing.

"Being a professional athlete can be a very selfish, one-dimensional, introspective world - but the arts have opened up my eyes," she adds.

"It has helped me understand characters and emotions and myself - it has given me a very different perspective."

She is now a screenwriter and producer. Her latest project is bringing together the people and finances for a film version of the seminal World War One novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Daniel Radcliffe was initially attachedexternal-link and now Roger Donaldson - best known for his work on Cocktail - has been signed up to direct.external-link

Dangerous waters

Paterson has faced her own battles in the past few years. In 2011, after suffering from persistent head tics, nausea and fatigue, she was diagnosed with bacterial infection Lyme Disease.

Paterson suddenly had to learn to train smarter - improving her fitness, but without overwhelming her depleted immune system.

"It used to be that I could have an amazing day, win the world championships and then the next I could not keep up with my grandma," she explains.

"What makes me good is my ability to keep pushing through the pain, but that is the very thing that also got me into trouble.

Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans via infected ticks.
It is estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year.
Symptoms may include a distinctive circular rash and flu-like symptoms. More serious issues such as problems with the nervous system, heart and pain in joints can follow without early treatment.
Lyme disease charities clam that as many as 12,000 cases could go undiagnosed each year in the United Kingdom.

"It is always that innate part of my personality that wants to push. I have had to mature as a person and an athlete to understand when to hold back."

But, as those triathletes who might be dodging raw sewage at Rio 2016 triathlon next summerexternal-link will attest, open-water swims are particularly risky to those susceptible to illness.

Paterson goes through a regime of Chinese herbal treatments and parasite cleanses as soon as she gets out the water to help her gut cope with whatever nasties are heading its way.

And once back home in San Diego she encases herself in an 'ozone sauna' - a pod that wraps around her body and pumps the gas into her open pores - to try and kill off anything that might still be lurking. She will also administer the gas rectally to take the fight to troublesome bacteria on all fronts possible.

Neither treatment is part of the conventional treatment for the disease. But Paterson says that after trying various options, they work for her.

But perhaps the most powerful remedy comes from within rather than without.

"I just like to overcome a challenge," she concludes.

"We live in a world of people telling us what we can and cannot do.

"How we live our life, how you are supposed to heal - the doctor's standard response to tell you to lay off it for six to eights weeks - but there is no standard individual.

"If you really want to be successful in your life you have to feel those fears, find the boundaries and push against them. That comes with the potential to fall flat on your face, but I would rather do that than live in mediocrity."