Behind the Dores: Patrick Perrier

Patrick Perrier of O’Fallon, Illinois took an unusual path to Vanderbilt. He didn’t arrive as a newcomer on the cross country team this year as a freshman, but rather as a Vanderbilt law student after graduating from Stanford University last year. A high-achiever in everything he does, Perrier says competing in cross country while attending law school is tough, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

I played soccer year-round as a kid. I’d be up watching ESPN all of the time. I’m a Cardinals fan and a Jaguars fan. I’m one of those guys that constantly loved being outside playing sports, riding bikes, being active.

I got started in cross country my sophomore year of high school. I played varsity soccer my freshman year, but then I ran track in the spring ran a 4:27 mile. After that, I got kind of pushed into the cross country side.

There were a lot of growing pains. I had never run that far. I remember going to the Illinois state meet, just thrown in the fire. I hit a wall with a quarter mile to go. But then I won State my senior year.

Running when you’re training for another sport every day isn’t fun. I had a soccer coach who told me I was out of shape and made me run. That was not fun. But when I got into cross country, doing the workouts and actually racing was a lot of fun. It’s the competition aspect.

When you play on a soccer team you have 20 guys on a roster. It’s hard for that synergy to come together. In cross country you’ve got 7, 8, 10, 11 guys gutting it out in practice together. It’s a team sport that you can’t hide in. In soccer you can have a bad day and it’s not a big deal, the team can still win. In cross country if you have a bad day it’s going to show. It’s going to let everyone else down.

I naturally gravitate toward things that are challenges. I like to see how far I can stretch my boundaries.

Going to Stanford was like that. When I was being recruited, I was like, “I don’t know if I can do that. They’re one of the best teams in the country with better-than-Ivy-League academics. Everyone is smart and I’m this schmucko coming from the Midwest.” For me, that was very scary at the beginning. But I took a visit and talked to coaches and grew into the idea.

In terms of school, it was the first time in my life that I put in a lot of work and didn’t get good grades. It’s relative. I think I had a 3.3 or 3.4, but when you’re used to having a 4.0 it’s tough.

In cross country, I was used to being the best and now I was 10th or 11th. That helped me become comfortable pushing my boundaries, not focusing on what everyone else is doing but what I’m doing. I grew as a person.

My advice is don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It’s easy to get stuck in a box, in a safe space. Always be looking for ways to get better. The biggest life lesson for me was that when something didn’t go as well as I would have liked, I asked myself what I could improve on.

Our coach said all the time that athletics is just a forum for training you how to do the rest of your life. If you can overcome adversity in your sport, anything else is easy. If you can do the running and school at a high level, going to law school, going to business school, a corporate job is going to be easy because you have developed the skills to overcome adversity and do things the right way.

The reason for me to come here and keep running in law school? First, I’m a type A personality. I don’t want to let anything go. I’ve done everything at a high level: academics, running. I wanted to do that here, too. And I saw the pieces here with these guys. Relative to what Vanderbilt has been in the past, there’s a lot here that can make this team special. That was a big draw. I felt I could bring something of value to the table, an outside perspective to help this team achieve its goals.

I try to be older and wiser and guide them to the light, but I’m kind of dumb, too. Everybody is [dumb] in their own way, right?

I’m a big Will Ferrell guy. I love comedies. I’m a big-time moviegoer. I love all the superhero movies.

I play a lot of video games. I love playing this game called Rocket League where you have little [remote control] cars you play car soccer with. I play FIFA and Madden online with my buddies.

It was a big culture shift going to California. Everything was so fast-paced. It’s all about who do you know, what’s the next app, what’s the next start-up. Everybody’s always saying they’re going to be the next Facebook, the next Google. Everybody is the best at whatever they do.

That’s been a good experience to take into a scenario like this at Vanderbilt. Once again, I’m surrounded by very high-achieving personalities. Nothing has really changed. Competing in the SEC, going to a top law school, you’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin to be successful.

Nashville is awesome. I love it. It’s a very cool city, a very young city, the people are friendly. There are so many things to do, so many different people to meet from all walks of life.

I like going to class every day. I’m engaged, excited. It’s the same thing going to practice, whatever I do at Vanderbilt and in Nashville. I’m loving everything about it.

After law school, I’d like to go work for a firm and do patent work. My undergrad is in energy resource engineering, it’s like a hybrid between petroleum engineering and renewables. I got to do some really cool research at Stanford on policy work and new wave renewable energy, I think there’s a cool sector there at the intersection of energy policy, energy law and patent litigation and law. I think that’s going to be an interesting field in the next 10 years with all the new technology coming out.

After my dad got out of the Navy, he traveled a lot for work. His main office was in Philadelphia and we lived in Illinois, so he’d be gone Monday through Thursday. It was just my mom and my sisters in the house, and that was challenging. My junior year my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s traveling, she’s doing chemo. Those are moments where you grow up a bit and get a different outlook on life. Being around my family with everyone together is special. She got over that and is doing great now. She’s going to outlive us all.

Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss