Paralympic gold medallist's triumph over tough past

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read

While watching the 2012 London Paralympic Games as a 13-year-old, Lakeisha Patterson told her mum that she was going to become an elite athlete and win gold medals.

It’s something parents hear a lot from their kids, no doubt before enthusiasm wanes and the buzz of the Games dies down.

A selfie of Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson, Paralympic gold medallist, wearing a black and white gingham blouse
Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson made her Paralympic gold medal dreams a reality - with a lot of hard work. Photo: Instagram/lucky_patterson99.

Not so for Lucky, as she likes to be called, whose resilience and drive saw her achieve her goals just four years later as a swimmer in Rio.

Lucky tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she was aware she was being very ambitious at the time — not that it stopped her.

“I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I had a dream, a goal, a passion and I was going to make it a reality,” she says.

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Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson, Paralympic gold medallist, displays her various swimming medals which includes two golds from Rio 2016
Lucky with her medal stash which includes two golds from Rio 2016. Photo: Instagram/lucky_patterson99.

‘Breach, blue and not breathing’

Lucky’s tough road to realising her Rio dreams began when she was born, in her words, “breach, blue and not breathing”.

She had a stroke shortly after birth and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy left Hemiplegia, meaning the part of the brain that controls the muscle movements on the left side of her body was damaged.

When Lucky was five she had multiple unexpected seizures and was diagnosed with Epilepsy. At 12, she learned she had Micrographia, which is a symptom of early-onset Parkinson’s Disease.

At around the time of her Epilepsy diagnosis, Lucky began swimming for therapy after trying her hand at everything from dancing to athletics and even karate.

“I was determined to find a sport that I was good at,” she says.

Turns out, it was in the pool.

Gold medalists Ellie Cole, Lakeisha Patterson, Maddison Elliott and Ashleigh McConnell of Australia celebrates on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Women's 4x100m Freestyle Relay - 34 Points Final during Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lucky (second from left) celebrates with her fellow gold medalists Ellie Cole, Maddison Elliott and Ashleigh McConnell at the medal ceremony for the Women's 4x100m Freestyle Relay at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Photo: Getty Images.

“Swimming for me was magical. I loved the freeing feeling of the water, moving my muscles in different ways eased most of my daily pain while helping me work on my balance, posture and coordination. I absolutely loved it!”

From there Lucky threw herself into training and competing, making her international swimming debut just two years in.

She’s been a part of the Australian Dolphins Swim Team for the past seven years, notching up some impressive achievements including competing at two Commonwealth Games, two Pan Pacific Championships and two World Championships along with various international records and medals.

Then came the 2016 Rio Paralympics where she scooped the pool with a staggering six medals including two gold and two world records.

Australia's Lakeisha Patterson swims in the Women's 400m Freestyle on day five of the 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships at The London Aquatic Centre, London.
Lucky doing her thing at the Women's 400m Freestyle race at the 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships in London. Photo: Getty Images.

Overcoming obstacles

Lucky’s early challenges were by no means only physical.

“I come from a single-parent household due to domestic violence with abuse towards my mum, myself and three sisters.

“Mum has also overcome Cancer and raised three girls on her own while making sure we always had the opportunity to be ourselves and find our passions.

“I have been thrown a lot of obstacles in my life so far, and at times it has been difficult to see past them and focus on the road ahead, but I have never let these roadblocks deter me.”

Today, Lucky has her sights set on the Tokyo Paralympics, which have been postponed to 2021, and is studying a Bachelor of Communication majoring in Digital Media at uni.

“I definitely still see competitive swimming on my horizon for the next few years, but I am also proud of what I do outside of the pool,” she says.

Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson, Paralympic gold medallist, with her sisters and mum on her 21st birthday.
Lucky with her sisters and mum on her 21st birthday. Photo: Instagram/lucky_patterson99.

Lucky is a proud ambassador for Aspirations for Kids in Sport (A4K) and is a big advocate for disability rights, inclusion and standing against domestic violence.

And while she spends ‘90 per cent’ of her time in activewear and swimmers, Lucky also loves to dress up whenever possible. Finding clothing and shoes that are tailored to people living with a disability, however, is a challenge that many able-bodied shoppers aren’t aware of.

That challenge was eased somewhat when a friend referred Lucky to a new Australian online shop, EveryHuman, which stocks a range of ‘adaptive clothing’ — think shirts with magnetic closures instead of buttons, shoes with zippers that can be zipped one-handed or pants that are suitable for people who use wheelchairs.

“Fashion should be for everyone. Everybody deserves to be represented and included, whether they have a disability or not,” Lucky says with regard to EveryHuman.

Her favourite brand on the site at the moment is Billy Footwear; “The sneakers are incredibly versatile, fashionable to suit every outfit and most importantly the zip access makes them incredibly easy to put on,” she explains.

Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson, Paralympic gold medallist, wearing a peach jumper, white jeans and Billy Footwear sneakers
Lucky in her pair of Billy Footwear sneakers from EveryHuman. Photo: Instagram/lucky_patterson99.

Lucky is keen to see shoes sold individually not just in pairs to cater to people who have different sized feet; “It’s incredibly hard or near impossible to purchase a pair of shoes in different sizes to suit our physical needs,” she says.

Lucky can now add ‘model’ to her ever-growing list of qualifications after appearing in a shoot for EveryHuman, something which she’d love to do more of in the future.

“I would love to join companies and brands like EveryHuman to help promote inclusivity within the fashion industry,” she says.

Whatever she does, whether in the pool, in front of the camera or working with other differently-abled people, Lucky is dedicated to sharing her inspiring message with everyone.

“It is not the disability that defines you; it's how you deal with the challenges the disability presents you with. I like to say that everyone is uniquely able! Life is tough, but so are you.”

Thursday, December 3 is International Day of People with Disability. It’s also EveryHuman’s first birthday.

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