Lydia Paterson is a 19-year-old biology major on academic scholarship at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth.
A little over a year after graduating from Piper High in Kansas City, Kan., the dean’s list student expects to become a junior by December and still can claim nothing but 4.0 grade-point averages since her freshman year of high school.
She’s eager to get on with the next phase of her life “helping people” in some way, with physical therapy her current notion of how to do it.
Meanwhile, there’s her alter ego at the Rio Olympics, where she will compete today in the 10-meter air pistol as the 61st-ranked shooter in the world in the event but among its youngest.
“It’s a lifestyle, not just a sport for me,” she said, though adding, “I refuse to let shooting hold my education back. I don’t want to be taking one class for one year, taking forever to graduate. So far it’s worked out.”
In fact, the approach that allows her to live at home to streamline her life probably has provided balance more than it’s made for overload.
When she might be apt to fret over competitions around the globe in Azerbaijan or the Czech Republic or Germany or Spain, (events commemorated with stickers on her pistol grip), she can fixate on school work.
When she needs a break from school, she can train, whether at home in the makeshift shooting area she’s contrived in the basement or a nearby gym to do yoga or at the Tri-County Rod & Gun Club in Linwood, Kan., that considers her its own.
But the duality also speaks to what really drives Paterson, the perfectionist and competitor within.
“People say you can’t do both: be a fulltime student taking 16 hours and trying to travel and shoot,” she said, smiling. “I like to prove people wrong, and I will do my darnedest to do that.”
The very reason she has risen to elite status in her sport actually starts with that.
“My brother started shooting BB guns with the (Wyandotte County) 4-H club,” she said, “and I was, like, super jealous.”
She was 6 then and started with the BB gun a year later, soon surpassing older brother Caleb.
“If he does something,” she said, laughing, “I have to do it better.”
Even if her father, Ron, saw her as a natural, he initially had no notion she’d take shooting this far.
Maybe, though, it was just meant to be.
When she was diagnosed with scoliosis about five years ago, she moved from air rifle to air pistol to alleviate the pain and thrived all the more.
Paterson made the USA national team when she was 16 — about two years before she graduated from Piper High.
If it seems it would take someone serious to manage all this, well, she sure seems to be.
“She’s very strong-willed … (and) a planner,” her mother, Letha, said, smiling. “So there’s nothing surprising in what she does.”
Or as Caleb put it: “Whenever she gets pressure put on her, she just gets stronger.”
In a sport she considers 80 percent mental, part of that planning was urging her parents and brother not to come to Rio to see her compete in a spot she earned for Team USA by finishing eighth in a World Cup event in Munich last year.
“I’m used to them not being there (in foreign countries),” she said, adding, “the reason they’re not going is it boils down to a security issue. They can still see everything from home and give me the opportunity to really experience it for myself.”
As it happens, she’s actually already experienced Rio for herself at a World Cup event earlier this year.
“We were actually there when they impeached the president, so there was some rioting and some protesters and things burning,” she said.
Even so, she got the touristy stuff out of the way then, too.
“I can’t do anything halfway,” she said.
Even when she’s doing twice as much.