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A Remarkable Sporting Life: Lauren Patterson, swimming like a fish — with a plan

By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — It is now trout season but that is not the kind of “whopper” for which Lauren Patterson is angling. Still only a junior at Watauga, the young student-athlete who “swims like a fish” recently committed to compete at the next level for the University of Kentucky as soon as she graduates high school.

Competing is one thing, but what stands out about Patterson is her ambition to leverage the college education afforded to her through athletics for achieving larger, long-term professional goals. She talks with purpose and confidence — and she is still only a junior in high school.

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

“I just jump in the water and find joy,” Patterson said. “I’ve always been attracted to the water — which is kind of funny because neither of my parents swim! My dad couldn’t swim to save his life; my mom is terrified of the water. They didn’t grow up around water, but they put me in a swimsuit when I was two years old and since then I have loved it.”

Patterson has been serious about swimming competitively for just about as long as she can remember. After her parents put her in swimming lessons as a toddler, by the time she was five years old, Patterson had told her mother, “I like this. I think I can be good at swimming.”

“I have always been pretty confident about things, especially sports, and I like trying new things. I had been taking swim lessons for about three years, so I was five years old when I told Mom I wanted to focus on swimming,” said Patterson. “Yep, at five I told Mom, ‘I’m ready. My goal is to swim in college. I want to swim for the U.S. in the Olympics.'”

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

At five years old, kids profess a lot of what sounds like outrageous or spur-of-the-moment ambitions, like wanting to be an astronaut who goes to the moon when they grow up, or a doctor, teacher, policeman, fireman, lawyer, President of the United States, NFL quarterback, NBA star… any manner of things.

Patterson gets up at 3 a.m., every day except sunday, and drives to kernersville to train with her club team, then drives back to attend classes at Watauga high school.

Listening to Patterson today, there is no doubt that she believed she could swim and swim fast from that early age. From when she told her mother what she wanted to do, Lauren Patterson had a purpose and much of her life has since been planned around swim competitions — and the training that goes with it.

Today, Patterson gets up at 3 a.m., every day except Sunday, and drives to Kernersville (roughly two hours each way) to train with her club team, then drives back to attend classes at Watauga High School.

During the recent winter months, when she was competing for Watauga High School, she had what she described as a “breakthrough” in the 100 butterfly event but she swims all disciplines pretty well. That makes her a strong contender in any individual medley race (where you swim all disciplines): backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and freestyle.

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

The daughter of a construction contractor and a Parkway School teacher for special needs children, Patterson was born and raised in Boone. The importance of a strong work ethic has not escaped her.

“Last year, I overtrained a bit in the breaststroke and it resulted in a hip injury, so I had to suspend that for awhile,” Patterson told High Country Sports.

Why Kentucky?

“I was always set on going to South Carolina,” Patterson admitted. “We have family down there and it is fairly close to home and Boone, only about three hours. But over the course of the recruiting process, I broadened my horizons. I started to also look at other schools, a little further away than South Carolina. I emailed the coaches at Kentucky, as I did a few other schools, and told the coaches I was looking into their program and was interested. Kentucky was the first school I heard back from in the recruiting process. I also heard back from South Carolina and Tennessee, but there was something about their coaches emailing me back real quickly, the communication stood out for me. I also heard from Queens, which has moved up to Division I, and was going to schedule a visit there. I had a couple of looks from other schools as well, but Kentucky just stood out. Kentucky’s values, morals, everything about it was what I was hoping for.”

While Patterson has been relatively dominant in Northwestern Conference swimming since she was a freshman at Watauga, the regional and state competitions have been challenging in her early high school years.

kentucky was the first school i heard back from…kentucky just stood out…everything about it was what i was hoping for.

“This past year I was 9th in the 100 butterfly at the North Carolina State Championships, and I was 11th in the backstroke,” Patterson recalled. “I have competed decently well at both the regional and state levels since I got to high school but the competition is getting faster and faster, too.”

While Patterson admits to always setting and having numerous goals, she said her growth has been far from a “linear path.”

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

“Freshman year, I focused primarily on breaststroke. I overtrained and developed tendonitis in my hip, so I had to pull away from it a little bit and go through some physical therapy. So the past couple of years I have focused primarily on the backstroke and butterfly,” said Patterson, breaking into a sudden smile. “My butterfly has taken off and that is what I have been recruited for.”

Instinctively, the novice natator might think that training for one swimming discipline, i.e. the butterfly, might adversely affect an athlete’s performances in the other disciplines, such as the backstroke, freestyle or breaststroke. Patterson, the swimming analyst, says that is not the case.

“It’s actually kind of funny. It is all complementary. I like to switch back and forth between the disciplines. The more I have developed as a butterfly swimmer, the more in-line my core and hips have become, so it makes it easier for the backstroke or freestyle strokes to come together,” Patterson explained. “A lot of swimmers focus on just one event but I am very grateful. I am a very versatile swimmer. You can put me in just about any event and I can swim it. With that, I have a pretty strong IM (individual medley), too, putting all the strokes together.”

Patterson competed with the Watauga Swim Club beginning when she was five until she reached 13 years old, at the old county recreation pool. The club now trains in the new Watauga Community Recreation Center pool, just like the high school team.

“The old pool is where I got my start. When I turned 13, other than the high school team I am on a club team down in the Greensboro area, in Kernersville, called the Infinity Aquatic Club,” said Patterson.

As it turns out, Patterson’s competitive swimming interests has impacted family life, too, including sacrifices by her mother and father, all the while giving her a glimpse of other parts of the U.S.

when she was 14, covid-19 hit and patterson was idled. ‘I was stuck at home, out of the water.’

“During the summer, we don’t usually go on family vacations unless they are around my swimming. My first big meet was when I was nine years old. We went to Atlanta, Ga., for age group Sectionals. About a quarter of the country comes together there. When I was 12, I was selected to go to Midland, Texas, to represent North Carolina with 48 other swimmers of all ages. I think that meet involved about a third of the country, so it was a little bigger. When I was 13, it was the same event but hosted in Cary, N.C.,” said Patterson. “It was closer to home, not the long trip to West Texas.”

When she was 14, COVID-19 hit and Patterson was idled.

“I was stuck at home,” Patterson said. “I was actually out of the water for two months. I can’t complain because a lot of others were out longer than me, but for a swimmer two months is a long time. It has been scientifically proven that for every day you are out of the water you need two days of training to get back to where you were before. So it was really crazy. It took five or six months to get back to my previous competitive levels. Without question, COVID-19 took a toll. Getting back in the water is was almost like you were starting from scratch.”

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

Patterson is especially appreciative of the new swimming facilities at the Watauga Recreation Center, which opened as the nation was getting past COVID-19.

“Before COVID-19,” said Patterson, “we were all over the place with practices for the high school swim team. Especially over the last year or two with the opening of the Rec Center, we have had a lot more kids coming out for the team because we have a quality facility in which to train that is so close, with easy access. And perfect parking! The pool is reserved for the team at specific times. We can bond with our teammates and work with our coaches. Kids are more willing to come out now and that has shown up in the number of athletes — and so many good swimmers — that we have on the team. The numbers are increasing largely because of the pool.”

‘i love the team aspect.’

The level of increased interest in competitive swimming in Watauga County has come as a surprise to Patterson — and there have been some unexpected benefits and results.

“Back in November, at the interest meeting for the high school swim team, only about 15 kids showed up. I thought. ‘Wow. We might not even have enough for a team this year.’ So when I walked into the first day of practice and saw something like 50 or 60 kids, I was amazed. I love the team aspect. There are more people to talk to and create personal relationships. For me, creating those relationships is what high school swimming is about. I am going to have those relationships for the rest of high school and beyond. I have also been able to help other kids newer to swimming grow in the activity.”

While her teammates along the sides of the pool, encouraging and cheering during a race, are not quite as animated as the new Watauga Men’s Volleyball bench, Patterson values the support.

“That is fun and it is what I love about swimming on a team. Yes, it is an individual sport but there is also the team aspect, teammates cheering you on or racing right beside you. It is great to support others and cheer for others,” said Patterson.

The Watauga junior is already looking forward to becoming part of the Kentucky Wildcats team.

“Over the past 11 years since head coach Lars Jorgerson became head of the program, Kentucky has seen extreme growth in their women’s swimming program. I feel like I fit in pretty well there but I also have a lot more room to grow. What really hit home when I spoke with them during the recruiting process was when they said, ‘We really want to help you grow and to watch you get faster,'” Patterson shared. “Compared to the other girls in my recruiting class that will join the team in about a year and a half, my times are in the top two or three in the 100 Butterfly.”

Lauren Patterson. Photographic image by David Rogers

Patterson has a number of other interests, including working on the high school yearbook and boyfriend, Eli Greene, who she supports in his playing football, wrestling and the new men’s volleyball club.

‘i already have everything all planned out… i want to be an orthopedic surgeon.’

In her work on the yearbook, she especially likes the photography aspect of it. Not surprisingly, her favorite part is sports photography.

She also credits her participation in competitive sports for bringing her closer to God.

“A lot of it is knowing someone — God — is by my side, always, guiding me every step of the way,” said Patterson. “A lot of athletes point up to God after they score a touchdown or make a good play. I actually point up before I swim each race and I pray. It is part of my routine and I don’t know how to do it any other way. Regardless of the size of the meet, I always point up and pray. I ask God for peace because I am a very anxious person. I am that person who overthinks everything. This routine has given me a sense of peace with the knowledge that I am being guided. God has a plan for me and that plan is perfect.”

Patterson did not hesitate when asked about her academic interests as a student-athlete.

“Actually, I already have everything planned out,” she said. “From an early age I always knew I wanted to be involved in the medical field. Medicine and the health sciences fascinate me. For awhile, I wanted to do physical therapy but that was until I got invited to an online medical conference two years ago, during COVID, and I got to watch a whole live shoulder replacement surgery. That is when I realized that I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. So that is what I am hoping for and I will be majoring in pre-med at Kentucky. For next year, when I am a senior, I have signed up for an internship and I hope to get in with either Dr. (Stephen) Anderson or Dr. (Ben) Parker at AppOrtho.”

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