You certainly don’t pick a job for the perks, but sometimes it helps. My husband gets air miles from all his business travel. My dentist gets free toothpaste. One of the overlooked perks of being a full-time athlete is that, without even thinking about it, you get a fantastic body… at least until you retire, get injured, or get knocked up.
I fall into the last category; a 35 year old fencer who has spent the last 7 months watching her well-formed abs go from Olympic calibre to Homer Simpson. Thankfully, I’ll have something to show for it in February: a baby!
Yup, I’m pregnant. As a pregnant athlete you contend with a different set questions than the rest of the gestating world. “Are you still training? Are you going to compete after the baby is born? Are you going to make your baby an elite athlete?” The answers are as follows: a resounding “Sort of”, a “Definitely” and “My crystal ball broke so I don’t know!”
Olympic qualification starts less than 3 months after I give birth so I’ve gotta stay in the best shape possible. During my formative sports years, when I was forced to learn good eating habits, I remember thinking, “Damn all this restrictive dieting… when I get pregnant, and have an excuse to get fat, the first thing I am going to
do is bake myself an apple pie… and eat the WHOLE thing.” Well, it did, and didn’t, happen. Yes, I got pregnant and but I couldn’t bring myself to eat like bullemic at 2 am. In fact, my eating habits have gotten even healthier. First of all, because there’s a helpless little life depending on me for good nutrition. Secondly, because there is no such thing as “dieting” while you’re pregnant so if you over-eat, you’re stuck with it for at least 9 months. Lastly, the more room the baby takes up, the less room there is for my stomach so I physically can’t eat very much which means I have to chose carefully.
As far as training, I’ve been doing power walks, swimming, taking lessons and doing footwork and yoga. Once thing I haven’t done, is fence. I figure its not fair to make the baby do it without a mask… so I haven’t had any swords threatening me in 7 months and to be honest, its a nice break.
When you’re injured and forced out from training you usually resent it. You think about how everyone else is improving and you’re just trying to get back to fighting form. You feel behind schedule and it takes all your mental control not to be too over-eager once you re-start training. You’re dying to be back.
Pregnancy is a different ball game. I’ve “forced” myself out of training, sure, but I do not feel behind schedule at all. While I’m sure they are training as best they can, I don’t feel like my competitors are improving beyond my level. Its the same feeling as when you are reading a book which you put down for a few days. The characters are not carrying on the story without you but neither are they frozen in time, doing nothing without your observing eye. It is the magic of storytelling… life goes on hold but doesn’t stop completely.
Its the same in sports when you take a pregnancy break.
Perhaps I’m lucky because I do a sport that demands as much from my brain as it does my body so I will not be far behind as long as I keep thinking. In fact, women in fencing can come back much stronger after
having a baby. Nearly half of the Olympic medalists in women’s epee history have been moms!
For all of you pregnant women still wanting to compete in sport, don’t fear! Above all, do what makes you feel the best about being a mom. Paula Radcliffe trained for her marathons until the end of the 9th month while Kim Clijsters didn’t hardly touch a tennis racket for 2 years and both of them have given birth and come back champions.
I plan on staying active in my sport and being healthy for my little one. As for the rest: the achievements, the medals, the glory… we’ll just see what happens. One thing a mom knows is that making promises is a sure way to disappoint. But I can promise that I’ll wait until after the Olympics to eat that whole apple pie.