Road To The Olympic Games

Aquatics

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu still on 'straight and narrow' path to Tokyo after baby

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu will be gunning to regain her national title at the Canadian track and field championships this week after sitting out last season to give birth to daughter Corinne, who turned a year old earlier this month. Becoming a mom has given her a different perspective, better balance and made her more efficient in her training.

'I think being a mom, I have a little more strength now... when you have a baby, you're just extra strong.'

In this file photo, Canada's Melissa Bishop-Nriagu crosses the finish line after the women's 800m heat during the World Athletics Championships in London 2017. (Tim Ireland/The Canadian Press)

It was an endearing sight that played out at the University of Windsor Stadium numerous times during Melissa Bishop-Nriagu's comeback.

The 800-metre runner pounding around the blue and gold Alumni Field track. Husband Osi Nriagu making a diagonal beeline across the infield, one hand pushing a stroller, the other holding a stopwatch.

Bishop-Nriagu will be gunning to regain her national title at the Canadian track and field championships this week after sitting out last season to give birth to daughter Corinne, who turned a year old earlier this month.

Becoming a mom has given her a different perspective, better balance and made her more efficient in her training. And Bishop-Nriagu believes she'll be the faster for it.

"I don't think I'm at my best yet," said the Eganville, Ont., native. "I think being a mom, I have a little more strength now. I don't know what it is but when you — and I'm speaking to the moms here — when you have a baby, you're just extra strong and I'm really excited to see what else we can do leading up to Tokyo [2020 Olympics]."

The 2015 world silver medallist was pleasantly surprised how quickly she bounced back from pregnancy. She started doing alternate run/walk workouts six weeks after Corinne was born. She had zero trouble losing the extra baby weight, in fact she's had to work to keep weight on.

"I lost it so fast nursing and training," she said. "As a mom, your time is so focused on your child, sometimes feeding [yourself] and sleeping, those aren't my priorities anymore, and that's been the struggle, keeping my needs as an athlete a priority, but also Corinne's. I have to do both if I want to succeed in this career."

Her return to the track has been a group effort. Her longtime coach Dennis Fairall, who was inducted into Athletics Canada's Hall of Fame on Wednesday, is battling progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain disease. Fairall still attends workouts, weather permitting, his wife Janet unloading his wheelchair from their black SUV.

Trent Stellingwerff, a Victoria-based sports physiologist, is writing her training programs. Her husband, who took paternity leave (because maternity leave for athletes doesn't exist), has been her timer.

"Often times I would be running around the track and I'd see him pushing this red stroller across the field trying to get my splits at 200 [the 200-metre mark]," Bishop-Nriagu said, laughing.

Mom's in sports

Sports is full of successful mom stories. Tennis superstar Serena Williams is among the most recent high-profile athletes to return to competition after giving birth. Nia Ali, girlfriend of Canadian sprint star Andre De Grasse, is running the 100-metre hurdles at the U.S. championships this weekend. Ali and De Grasse became parents to daughter Yuri last summer, Ali's second child.

Bishop-Nriagu, who turns 31 next week, had a solid start to her comeback, running two minutes 1.10 seconds in an 800 in June, but has since been dealing with a minor hamstring injury. She'll battle last year's national champion Lindsey Butterworth at Claude Robillard Stadium on Saturday night.

That race will go a long way to determining what the next few weeks will look like. Bishop-Nriagu, who was fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, doesn't yet have a fast enough time to secure a lane in major international meets like the Diamond League series.

"It's nearly impossible," said Bishop-Nriagu, whose Canadian record is 1:57.01 set in 2017. "The big meets I want to be in are hard [to get into]. As soon as I can dip under two [minutes], I might have a few more opportunities. I'm ready to go anywhere I need to go to race."

Bishop-Nriagu was also asked twice in interviews Thursday if she'd considered retiring since her daughter was born.

Her answer was a definitive no. Not once.

"I'm ready to run fast again, I still love it, I still have that drive . . . I'm still on this straight and narrow path of my goals of Tokyo 2020, and Corinne is a boost, she's an absolute boost to be around," she said.

"It puts life into perspective, track's not my whole world anymore, I have a baby girl home waiting for me and it's been so fabulous, she's been such a lift in our life and track is still going to be there, and I know she is always going to be there no matter what. It absolutely is different, but it's a good balance."

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