After years of making compromises while juggling school and gymnastics, both pursuits are paying off for Ryan Patterson, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business (’16): Patterson is heading to Rio to compete in the Olympics, and when he returns, he’ll start a career in private wealth management.
Patterson was born in South Africa. At 4 years old, his parents felt the post-Apartheid climate had grown too dangerous and moved the family back to the United States. Patterson was raised in Pacifica, California, but kept his dual citizenship.
Now he’ll represent South Africa in the Olympics, becoming that country’s first gymnast to compete in over 50 years. He says he’s extremely honored, and that being able to represent South Africa is an amazing blessing.
Competing for South Africa, rather than the U.S., is a choice Patterson made a while back. He says it opened up educational possibilities for him, because South Africa has a much smaller pool of athletes, putting him in a better position to be picked for competitions. If he had wanted to compete for the U.S., he says, going to Haas while training wouldn’t have been an option.
FROM MOMMY-AND-ME TO COMPETITIVE GYMNASTICS
Patterson started gymnastics when he was 3 years old. It was a beginner’s “Mommy-and-Me” class, and he says he didn’t really show much promise. But when his family moved to the U.S., he stuck with it.
“My parents encouraged me to be active, but how I chose to be active was really up to me,” Patterson says. “I began competitive gymnastics around 6 years old, but to me that was still just for fun.”
But when he got to high school, he realized he would need to start prioritizing. His group of friends had grown, he was interested in joining school organizations, and for the first time, he thought seriously about quitting gymnastics.
But Patterson says he liked gymnastics too much to give up, so he dedicated himself to splitting his time between school and practice. This dedication continued into college. He was recruited by a number of NCAA gymnastics schools, choosing UC-Berkeley, where he felt “at home” on campus.
Patterson’s interest in business started in high school, and grew when he met other athletes on the Berkeley gymnastics team. Some were Haas majors, and they let him shadow them to see if he was interested in applying. For his last two years, he was accepted into the Haas School.
BALANCING BUSINESS SCHOOL AND TRAINING
But balancing his schedule between training and B-school wasn’t easy. Patterson’s course schedule had to revolve around gymnastics practice, and finding time for his other interests was difficult. He would attend business classes from 8 a.m. to noon every weekday, then head to practice until 4 p.m. After that, he says, he would do an hour of intensive weight room exercises, then perhaps fit in a discussion section or evening class. When he had internships, commuting to San Francisco made it even more difficult to find time to train.
“I feel that throughout my time at Haas, I had to make sacrifices to both my gymnastics focus and schooling focus,” Patterson says. “Because of my Olympic training, I consumed what felt like 100% of my free time with gymnastics or school-related activities.”
Gymnastics is a year-round sport, so Patterson’s busy schedule almost never let up, and time management became extremely important. “I’ve had to prioritize my time and keep focused on the process so that I can be my best come competition time,” he says.
LOOK OUT FOR HIM IN RIO
Patterson graduated from Haas in May, and since then he has been focused exclusively on training. “Without having to worry about school or work, I can devote my whole day to training,” he says. “I now have two practices a day, one at 9 a.m. and one at 3 p.m., that total five hours, sometimes more. The rest of my day is rehabilitation therapy and treatment on my body, because the increased practice really does take a toll.”
He leaves for Rio on July 27, and on Aug. 6 will compete in all six gymnastics events: floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. He hopes to make the finals with his combined score.
Most of all, Ryan Patterson is looking forward to the Opening Ceremony. “I was lucky enough to compete at the Youth Olympics in 2010,” he says, “and their Opening Ceremony was incredible. Considering that this is the pinnacle of sports, I am sure it will surpass that experience, and is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event.”