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How this Bafta-winning screenwriter used her triathlon prize winnings to fund her film

lesley paterson
From pro triathlete to Bafta award-winnerGetty Images

It's a story that itself could be turned into a screenplay: professional triathlete Lesley Paterson is a woman of many talents. A five-time World Triathlon Champion, she's had an enviable sporting career – winning the ITU Cross World Championships on two occasions and the XTERRA Triathlon World Championships three times. But that's just the starting point on a CV that now includes an Oscar nomination.

But her XTERRA win in Costa Rica, in 2015, is undeniably her most note-worthy – just not for the reasons you might expect. The 42-year-old from Stirling, Scotland sought victory at that race for one reason only: to fund her other passion – screen-writing. And for one particular film: Bafta award-winning screenplay and Netflix sensation All Quiet on the Western Front.

With an undergraduate degree in English and drama and a master’s degree in theatre, Paterson has been studying film for over 20 years, telling the BBC that she has 'always known that was my other passion'.

After failing to reach the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games following a successful career as a junior triathlete, Patterson decided to leave triathlon behind. She completed her undergraduate degree in Loughborough, before relocating to San Diego with her husband, Simon Marshall, where she studied for a master's degree and worked as an actress in plays and films.

In 2006, she and her writing partner Ian Stokell purchased the rights to Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, Paterson recalls loving the book when she first studied it in high school.

It was made into a Hollywood film in 1930, but Paterson and Stokell were determined to remake the film utilising today's technology. They spent the next 16 years trying to get it into production.

Paterson returned to professional triathlon in 2007, where one podium finish led to another – and each victory provided much-needed cash to fund the project. 'Every year, we would have to maintain the option for the novel, which was several thousand dollars,' Patterson told the Evening Standard. 'Often, I would use my race earnings to help with that.'

But in 2015 when the rights came up for a 10th time, Patterson had to take her biggest punt on a race win yet – she needed to find 10,000 dollars. A win at the XTERRA Costa Rica was her only option. 'It was my last shot,' she told the BBC, 'and the day before the race I actually fell off my bike and broke my shoulder. I spoke to my husband Simon. And he said: "Well you're very good at the one-arm drill in the water. Why don't you try swimming with one arm?"

Against all the odds, she won. And five years later, Netflix commissioned the film, after pitching it as a German language project to director Edward Berger. The epic anti-war movie has just won seven BAFTAs – the record for the highest number of BAFTAs won by a foreign language film – and has received nine Oscar nominations.

Paterson's story epitomes the power of perseverance – a lesson she learned through her sporting career. 'The dedication that comes from doing sport to that level, the obsession that you need, that fire in the belly,' Paterson told BBC. 'You don't get as good as as I did in sport and sustain it across so many years without really loving the process.'

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