Champion talk: Mark Allen speaks to Oscar-nominated Lesley Paterson

This week’s Mondays with Mark Allen is a belter, as he sits down with five-time off-road triathlon World Champion, Lesley Paterson. When the film you’ve written the screenplay for and been working on for 16 years has recently been nominated for nine Oscars, you have a very busy schedule in the lead up to Awards season.

Mark has managed to find a good half an hour in the packed Paterson diary for a really interesting insight.

That schedule…

“It is bananas! Ever since the BATFA nominations It’s been non-stop interviews, and then the Oscars is a whole other level. When you’ve got a big entity like Netflix behind you, obviously they funded and distributed the film, and they have spent a lot of money on their awards campaign. Now that we’ve got nine nominations, it’s gone into mega-drive.

“The British press specifically, when they found out about my story of being an athlete, that I’ve been working on it for 16 years to get this project off of the ground, funding the project by racing… they have jumped on board, so that’s gone bananas too.”

The story behind the film

Having committed so long to try and get the film made, Lesley explained what was the driver that kept that flame burning to see it through to the end.

“For me it’s the betrayal of a youthful generation. That the upper brass made these decisions, and millions and millions of men lost their lives. It’s that ‘for the people’ sentiment.

“I’m also drawn to the story of the other side. I think too often, especially nowadays, we think in silos, it’s very polarised – it’s them, it’s us – and we never put ourselves in other peoples shoes. And there’s the story of this German boy, just like our boys, and they experiencing exactly the same things, but they are on the losing side. What does that look like? What does that mean?”


From Rugby to triathlon… via ballet

Despite her diminutive stature, Paterson started off her sporting life in rugby and ballet. “I’ve always straddled arts and sports, and then when I could no longer play rugby with the boys, my Dad got me into triathlon. That was the early 90’s and I was on the pursuit of going to the Olympics, but I was just not a strong enough swimmer and so I got pretty disillusioned, to be honest.

“It wasn’t until I moved to California, that I discovered this other world of triathlon. I found XTERRA and thought this is like rugby plus triathlon, this is amazing. It played to my strengths because a lot of the courses are climbing based. I think coming back to the sport a second time, psychologically, I was just a lot more mature.

“I’d grown up in a system that didn’t work for me, and I didn’t think I was any good. I realised that it wasn’t me, it was the system – and that’s ok, I just needed a different system.”

Lesley Paterson ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships Shelby County 2012
Photo Credit: Kevin Cox/Getty Images for ITU

Lesley outlines many of the parallels between the acting/film work and sports, and how her learnings from the former have directly contributed to her development as a person and to become a successful, multiple World Championship winning athlete.


Having gained success in several avenues – with plenty of ups and downs in both, along the way – I asked what advice Lesley would pass on to youngsters, who perhaps have the seed of an idea they they also want to pursue.

“No. 1, adversity is good. We don’t champion it enough. When you face adversity, a part of your pain grows and gets denser and better able to cope with things in the future.

“No. 2, think outside the box about how to get something done. You don’t have to go down the same pathways as someone else, think dynamically. Don’t think short-term, think long-term and build relationships which could eventually came round and help you realise that dream.”

I hope you enjoy the full-length interview. Check it out in the embedded video on this page. Oh, and the movie All Quiet On The Western Front do go and check it out on Netflix. It’s amazing, impactful, emotional and raises a lot of questions about what we are doing here.

Lesley Paterson - ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships 2018
Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others
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