A 9-year-old Pattriana Perry woke up famished in her home – an old pickup truck.
Unable to find food, she begged her mother, Barbara Perry, to get some for her. She watched intently as her mom got out and began to quickly gather change off the cement, desperately trying to scrape together enough quarters for a cheeseburger off the dollar menu.
“I remember thinking, ‘Dang, we are really struggling, she’s over here picking up change just so I can get a dollar cheeseburger,’” Pattriana Perry said. “Even though I was 9, at that moment I knew I was not going to live like this for the rest of my life.”
Her ticket out would be education, which her mom stressed above all else, and athletics. It was important for Barbara Perry to keep her kids active so they weren’t sitting around.
Now, after being raised up and down the Interstate 80 in six different cities and switching between seven different schools, Pattriana Perry is at UCLA, where she just finished 21st in the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA track and field West Preliminaries.
Given the difficulties of a nomadic childhood, any other parent would have given up and sent her to protective services, Pattriana Perry said. But to this day, she deeply admires how her mother was able to stand by her kids, take them to church at the Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church and send them to school regardless of their situation.
Now she is set to become the first kid in her family to graduate college.
“(My mom) figured it out and the fact that she found ways is the reason why I put my all into everything I do – my academics and my sport,” Pattriana Perry said. “I know that is what is going to get me far in life.”
Despite the challenges that Barbara Perry faced in marriage with a husband who was in and out of prison, she would do whatever she could to ensure the best for her children.
“(I’d) work any kind of job to make sure they had clothes, shoes, anything they wanted,” Barbara Perry said. “I would go broke for my kids. I always tried my best to give them everything they asked for.”
Even at a young age, Pattriana Perry would race anyone in the family, from her four siblings to her boy cousins, so Barbara Perry and her husband, Patrick Perry, decided to introduce Pattriana Perry to track after her softball coaches noticed her innate speed.
In the sixth grade, without any prior individual training, Pattriana Perry entered the nationwide Hershey’s Track and Field Games and finished fifth out of approximately 400 young girls in the 100 meters.
However, in Pattriana Perry’s freshman year in high school, her life took an unprecedented turn for the worse.
That December, her mother was incarcerated and for nearly three years, Pattriana Perry became the parentified child – taking care of her little brother, Paris Perry, as if he were her own – until her parents’ release, which was just in time for her senior prom and graduation.
Her brother and her stayed with their uncle and aunt, whose residence doubled as a foster home. At the time, the house accommodated seven other foster children, forcing Pattriana Perry and her brother to share a mattress in a room with two others.
“Life was a living hell. I fought a few of the kids because they would steal my stuff,” Pattriana Perry said. “There was no sense of freedom – I would literally go home, go inside my room, close the door, and that’s it … but I did try to form a relationship with (my uncle and aunt).”
Pattriana Perry went into a slump after her mother’s incarceration – trying to cope with alcohol and marijuana use – but it was the constant support of her church, high school coach Mike Pop, club coach and godmother Donna Broussard and writing letters to her mother that helped her see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“(Pattriana Perry) did everything she could do to give her the opportunity for where she is now,” Pop said. “Pattriana walks into a room and immediately opens up. It’s hard to miss her because she’s such an upbeat, positive kid. … When she’s into something, she’s 100 percent all in.”
Track and field became one of the most consistent things Pattriana Perry had in her life. It morphed into so much more than just a sport, but acted as a positive outlet that kept her thoughts collected and gave her something to look forward to, given her unstable living conditions.
Come sophomore year at Vacaville High School, Pattriana Perry finally made the switch from specializing in sprinting to hurdling, and made it to the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, finishing fourth overall.
“That same kid who grew up without the resources of an average child came with a smile on her face, hardworking,” Pop said. “I would have never known (about her situation) if I hadn’t dropped her off and saw that she slept on a mattress on the floor every day.”
Pop and Broussard would not only pay for her track meets and hotels, but Pop, whose daughter also went to school with Pattriana Perry, even went as far as to offering to house her full time.
“That’s when I knew I genuinely had a great support system. These people really cared about me and I knew I couldn’t give up for them as well,” Pattriana Perry said. “They put so much work into to me, so I had to show them, ‘Here, this is for you all too.’ This success is for all of us.”
Broussard, like Pop, played an integral part in Pattriana Perry’s personal development over the years. When she was growing up, Broussard would take care of her over the weekends, bringing her to church, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Disneyland, among other places.
“My godmother was like my second mom. She would do anything for me,” Pattriana Perry said. “Still does to this day.”
At the start of college, Broussard bought her a laptop, a microwave, gift cards and more.
Broussard hadn’t met Pattriana Perry until she was in the eighth grade, but learned about her through emails from her husband who was the coach of Full Stride Track Club, the club team in Vacaville that Pattriana Perry competed with.
“Patt wasn’t the best originally but became the best because she never gave up,” Broussard said. “I’ve never seen anyone go through their whole high school with straight-A’s, living in the environment she was living in, without parents. Her faith was unwavering and she inspired me to trust in God no matter what my situation looked like.”
Despite both her parents’ incarcerations, it was this kind of coaching and support, paired with her natural ability, that eventually gave Pattriana Perry scholarship offers from competitive schools like Stanford, USC and Oregon, to name a few.
She chose UCLA because she did not want to leave California, but it was important for her to experience more than just the Bay Area. According to her mother, she was drawn to UCLA’s track reputation and meshed well with the team during her visit.
Now, at 21 years old, Pattriana Perry is a psychology major with dreams to become a sports psychologist.
On the track, her hurdles coach Andrea Blackett said she keeps getting better and better – she ran two personal bests this past weekend at the NCAA West Regional Prelims, Blackett said.
“I can see a very big fight, a very deep intense need to fight and be her best,” Blackett said. “I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with having to fight for everything that she wanted (growing up). We have a lot of respect for her because she’s a fighter – definitely a fighter – and every time she picks herself up, and every time she lines up, she gives it her 110 percent.”