Nothing lucky about Lakeisha Patterson's gold medal win.
Nothing lucky about Lakeisha Patterson's gold medal win.

INSIDE STORY: How Lakeisha Patterson won Rio gold

Teen sensation Lakeisha Patterson took Australia by storm winning Australia's first Gold Medal in Rio, but what does she do after winning gold.

Can she keep up her winning streak for her next 7 events? Triple Paralympian and mentor Marayke Jonkers gives the insiders scoop.

Her nickname may be "lucky," but there was no luck involved when Lakeisha stormed home to Gold in the 400m freestyle s8, breaking the world record and defeating her childhood idol Jessica Long (USA) in the process.

That is, unless you spell luck W-O-R-K.

Understandably she would now be on a massive high, but the Caboolture based High school student has no to time to party or lose focus she has to race every day of the Games. 

Training and studying senior high school from 4am- 8pm each day, she is no stranger to a busy schedule. Yet the morning after her gold medal swim she has pulled out a 3 second personal best to qualify for the 100m butterfly, a 'fun' event she's never raced internationally before meaning she has yet another final to swim.

But as a multiple Paralympic medallist myself I know just how challenging backing up after a Paralympic race can be, both physically and emotionally.

Elite swimming is about so much more than just the one race you see on television before a medal ceremony.

Potentially she may not be getting to bed until after midnight and has to be back at the pool to race heats again the following morning. Indeed she admitted her sleep was a little broken, "but the sleep I did get was good."

In addition, it's imperative to mentally switch off and re focus on preparing for the next event whether you are elated from an outstanding result, or devastation from not achieving ones goal.

Preparation for the next race begins straight after a swimmer leaves the competition pool, with a post event swim down to reduce the lactate in the muscles.

The exact distance and content of a swim down is tailored to each athlete, but the common denominator is that athletes work with the sport science staff having their fingers pricked with a lancet and tested until their lactate falls under 2.0.

Sports scientists provide ice baths  and video analysis and statistics about the event which an athlete will go over with their coach.

All this routine helps to keep an athlete mentally grounded as well as physically recovered.

Lakeisha was selected from doping control after her first gold medal, meaning that she is chaperoned by a drug testing official from the moment she completed her race.

An athlete has the right to complete a warm down and attend medal ceremonies while being chaperoned - but cannot leave the venue or chaparones sight until a sample is provided.

This can be blood, urine or both and can mean lots of time drinking sealed drinks and running taps in an attempt to hurry nature along to get back home for dinner and bed.

But the day isn't over yet. Athletes travel to and from the Paralympic Village to competition venues on buses at transit malls. Often there can be a wait, particularly at the end of a swim session when all athletes and staff are trying to return en mass.

Back at the village there's a walk to the dining hall and line up for food, then back to the building housing team Australia.

Finally back in your room at the village, after the most extraordinary time of your life winning a medal one must complete the most ordinary task - unpack our swim bag rinsing chlorine out of the two team issued race suits and hanging them and your towel out to dry ready for the following day.

At this point mental toughness and self control come in. It's essential to know how to calm down and get back to sleep.

After my silver medal in Beijing I was on such a high I couldn't fathom sleeping.

I celebrated by eating pizza, McDonalds apple pie and salad, anything in the dining hall that took my fancy and wasn't denied on my training diet.

Then I spent time in the athlete computer lounge on social media before celebrating with two team mates huddled in a room trying not to wake team mates while dissecting every detail of each others races, looking at our medals and reassuring each other that YES that really did just happen.

In Athens four years earlier, on the other hand, I had no difficulty sleeping after winning my first ever medal. I knew I had a major event within 48 hours, so I kept my emotions in check and never allowed myself to truly feel the overwhelming feelings of excitement associated with  a medal ceremony until my final event.

Some swimmers use sleeping  tablets, personally I found relaxation and a really good book a way to keep calm and get a good nights sleep.

Also at this point every athletes smart phone is lit up like a Christmas tree with messages from friends family and your cousins neighbours friends dogs nephew who saw your on TV.

Athletes have to decide the best way to manage social media without becoming distracted by messages and comments.

Strategies range from switch off till after competition, ask someone to post updates for them or simply use it as a tool for mass communication of results rather than multiple texts and calls.

I first met Lakeisha when I presented her with an Award  from Sporting Dreams the grants scheme I founded to empower athletes with disabilities.

Straight away she struck me as a star of the future. Her commitment to sport was second to none, demonstrated when I offered the aspiring Paralympian a ticket to the Sport Star of the year awards.

"I would love to go, it would be so inspiring, but I have training the next morning so I can't afford to have a late night, " she said.

It's that kind of dedication, not luck, that wins gold medals.  Lucky stood out in my mind from the 136 other athletes we have provided grants to for another reason - her sheer wonder and appreciation for the entire process of becoming an elite athlete from wearing green and gold for the first.

Despite her own success winning Commonwealth bonze in 2014, she remained humble and keen to learn from Paralympians seeking wisdom and mentoring along with selfies and autographs.

Most of all she remained the typical polite school girl excited about her school formal, getting L plates and new swimsuits and hair styles while studying and training hard.

Showing a hallmark of swimming  greatness, she loves to be the first one at the pool instagramming the still untouched water at sunrise before being the first t dive in and break the surface beginning a gruelling swim session, school then more training followed by homework.

I always knew she was on a journey to the Paralympic Games, but it began in March, with the Olympic & Paralympic Trials in Adelaide.

Athletes raced to be the closest to the world record for their classification, with just 36 places available on the team to Rio.

Lakeisha Lucky Patterson is a talented Australian title swimmer. Photo : John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Lakeisha Lucky Patterson is a talented Australian title swimmer. Photo : John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily.

After a short break and team induction camp following the team announcement Lakeisha and our swimmers underwent an intense training phase.

They raced for the last time in Australia with a home crowd of former Australian swim team members on pooldeck in the Grand Prix in Brisbane during July after which our Paralympic swimmers flew to Cairns for a staging camp filled with training, team bonding, getting used to working with your team staff from coaches to physios and sport psychologists.

Relay teams who hail from across the nation take this time together to practice changeovers.

Finally the teams Rio preparation culminated in a two week staging camp in the USA at University of Alabama with the distractions of daily life gone and a laser focus on Paralympic preparations.

Once the team arrived in Rio the entire swim team decided to sacrifice attending the opening ceremony to be well rested as the swimming started on day one.

Within all this each swimmer has their own pre race rituals and preparation.

For Lucky this pre race ritual begins with painting her nails green and gold- both the Aussi and her club team colours. For Rio she's gone for alternating fingers glittery green and gold with intricate nail art writing AUS and a lucky shamrock.

This,  along with shaving down the day before a race are pretty standard pre race rituals for swimmers.

Others have a lucky towel, piece of jewellery of music they plan to listen to in marshalling area before a race.

But when Lucky lines up behind the blocks over the next ten days she doesn't need luck.

She's done the work and is living proof of my life motto the harder you work the luckier you get.

Bring on the racing, I suspect we'll see many more Lucky Patterson personal best swims.


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