It’s a Sunday afternoon, my feet are up, I have a litre of water sitting beside me, and a rather large belly bump which seems to be dancing.
I’ve just come in from the gym where I was on the elliptical trainer, doing a few light weight exercises. I’m 33 weeks pregnant and trying to balance a fine line of healthy baby, healthy mom, and the fitness I have come to expect from being a track and field athlete.
For the last nine years, I’ve watched my husband Osi — the biggest kid I know — interact with his nieces, nephews and friends’ kids. My jaw drops at how well he interacts with them, he’s a kid-magnet and they love to be around him. Osi and I haven’t been married long, but we’ve spent the better part of a decade together.
He is one of the biggest supporters of my career as a track and field athlete. If not for him, I can say with certainty I wouldn’t have achieved the level of success I have in this sport. But our lives don’t centre on sport all the time. We both expressed to one another, early in our relationship, our dream of having children, and it’s obvious, with how good he is with kids, I have zero doubts on his status upgrade to “daddy” in the upcoming weeks.
With my career depending on age, physical fitness, peak performance, and pushing my body to limits I never thought possible, children weren’t in our plans until after retirement from athletics. I don’t have much longer in this sport to capitalize on what I have now — it’s physically very demanding — so, we always thought children after my running career. That was our plan.
As we all know, plans change. In every race I run I have two to three “plans” depending on if it’s a tactical race, a fast race, or what position I am in the pack. As a rough future plan, 2018 involved the Commonwealth Games, travelling overseas for the Diamond League circuit; 2019 world championships in October in Doha, Qatar; and, of course, in 2020 the Tokyo Olympic Games. As 2017 came to a close, our 2018 plans changed … we found out that we we’re expecting our first baby!
Career and family
I believe any woman in a career is faced with a big decision when it comes time to starting a family. Will jobs be there when you get back from maternity leave? Will your job still see you as who you were, same energy levels, with the time commitments you had before baby arrived? Is there a good time to have a baby as a professional woman in the working world?
These are the questions Osi and I were asking ourselves once we found out I was pregnant. Is this a good time in my career, with Tokyo 2020 around the corner? Am I risking too much by taking some time to start our family? This wasn’t in “The Plan.” We really didn’t have too much time to think about this as I was a) already pregnant and b) almost through my first trimester by the time we found out.
The answer to the first question is YES! After taking time to chat about things with Osi, and knowing our absolute dream of starting a family, the thought of even being parents made us both tear up. This was by far the best surprise we have ever had. We are so lucky to be able to bring a baby into this world. Yes, not in our plans, but like I said, plans change. It’s probably an even better plan, because the 2018 IAAF calendar doesn’t include a major championship this year. It’s considered a down year with no world championships and no Olympic Games.
Further to that, a major championship usually happens in July or August but because the world championships are in Doha, Qatar, it’s too hot there during that time for the event to be held in the summer.
As I sit here, with seven weeks to go until the expected arrival of this blessing, I can’t say with certainty anything about my career as an athlete in coming years. I have full intentions of returning to the sport faster, stronger, and with more fight than ever.
I plan to be on that start line at the 2019 world championships and at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I expect that it won’t be a walk in the park to return to peak form or that my fitness will be where I left it last August. I also expect I will have even more drive now with the arrival of our baby; we have one more person on our team now.
I’m not breaking any ice by being a first time mom coming back to an athletic career. Big names like Serena Williams (tennis), Kerri Walsh Jennings (volleyball), Hayley Wickenheiser (hockey), and Gwen Jorgensen (triathlete, now marathoner) have all taken time to start their families and successfully come back to sport. And, in Canadian track and field alone, Hilary Stellingwerff (1,500 metres) had her first baby between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and successfully made the 2016 Olympic team.
Krista DuChene (marathon) super mom, has three children and just finished third in the Boston Marathon this past April! There are countless role models to look up to in this small group of moms in sport. I think that’s why I’m so comfortable with this “plan” at this point in my career; these women have successfully balanced a baby and a successful career afterwards … why can’t I?
'My new passenger'
If I’ve learned anything through these 33 weeks, it’s that every pregnancy is different. Once we found out we were expecting, I was well into my first trimester, training as per usual in preparation for the 2018 season. I didn’t feel different, look different, and training was going well. After finding out I was pregnant, training obviously changed to accommodate my new passenger onboard.
I’ve been working very closely with the right people to ensure first and foremost a healthy baby, secondly a healthy mom, and thirdly maintaining my best possible fitness. I will be honest, I thought I’d be able to cruise through pregnancy, running every day, lifting weights, and have no real problems. How naive! My training has been a day-to-day thing depending on how I’m feeling and on my energy levels.
I’ve been lucky to still be able to maintain the majority of my fitness in the pool, elliptical, and the bike. Now that I’m well into the third trimester, walking up hills, long walks, and elliptical are about the only thing my body can handle. The athlete in me is itching to get out the door for a run; it is also telling me to listen to my body. I can say that over the past decade as an athlete, I’ve learned to listen to my body, feel the aches and pains, make the right choice about when I’m pushing too hard or when to push a little more. I believe that’s why I’m walking up hills to get my heart rate up.
A woman’s body does such miraculous things and goes through mega changes to grow a tiny human … I’m still amazed by it. But these changes aren’t always welcomed, and especially to an athlete, whose days are centred on using their body to perform and have a career. But, the changes MUST happen. The belly MUST grow so this baby can be healthy. If that means I can’t bust out a tempo run or reach down to even tie my shoes these days, then I’m OK with that.
So as I sit here post workout and a good meal, I’m feeling a nap. That’s what my body is telling me to do right now. Yes, I have a basketball-size bump, I waddle now, tying my shoes is pretty difficult, and so is getting out of bed. I’m not used to carrying this kind of weight out front and neither is my body; but, feeling the kicks of this baby I’m sharing a body with, that I’m working hard to create, and knowing how excited Osi and I are to be parents trumps ALL!
I wouldn’t have this any other way; this is the perfect plan for us right now. I know in my heart I’ll be back to running and in prime fitness as soon as I can. I still have Tokyo 2020 on the brain.
(Top large photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images; Bottom large photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
The Melissa Bishop-Nriagu edition
Q: The best book you've ever read?
A: Recently, The Birth House. Always a favourite is Tuesdays with Morrie.
Q: Must-listen Podcast?
A: What's a podcast? Kidding ... I don’t listen to podcasts but maybe something I’ll get into when I’m up feeding in the wee hours.
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: "Respect all, fear none." — Dennis Fairall, my coach!
Q: What word or phrase do you overuse?
A: "Ya, right?"
Q: What is a skill you wish you had?
A: I wish I could sing.
Q: What's something no one would guess about you?
A: I used to step dance! Not Irish dance, but close!
Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite?
A: The Obama’s, Maria Mutola, Ellen Degeneres, Serena Williams, Charlize Theron, and my Mom!!
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: I’m an emotional woman these days, any of the diapers commercials, Thank you mom commercials, really anything that has a baby/kid and a parent(s) and I tear up!
Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: Mom-athlete/Olympic medallist!