Olympic Mothers: Why You’re No Different From These Elite Athletes

Last night we watched Jessica Ennis-Hill kick out a strong 800 meters in just over 2 minutes and 9 seconds. The 800m-sprint was the final portion of the Heptathlon, and while she crossed the finish line first, it wasn’t quite enough to secure gold. But at the end of the day, the bubbly British athlete was all smiles and grace. She happily shared her congratulations to her fellow competitors from around the world, raised the Union Jack high above her shoulders, and proudly donned her Silver medal.

Ennis-Hill as many of you may know, was the defending Olympic champion in the Heptathlon from the 2012 London Olympics. This year in Rio, she continued to post impressive numbers in the 7 events that make up the Heptathlon: the 100m hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, the 200 and 800m dashes, the long jump, and the javelin throw. Her results in 2016 were just barely shy from the ones that she secured 4 years ago, but by all accounts, she proved that she is still one of track & field’s top athletes. But this year, Ennis-Hill had one more, very important person in her cheering section, her 2-year-old son Reggie.

Being a mother and an Olympian puts Ennis-Hill into a relatively small group of women who train to get back into elite shape almost immediately after giving birth. This got us thinking about the pressure they are under in the quest to prove that they’re still capable of performing at the highest level. Now whether that pressure is created by themselves, their fans, the media, or their athletic governing bodies – it exists all the same. A recent exposé by Sky Sports documented some of the rigidity of these national governing bodies in managing maternity-leaves for elite athletes, their expectations upon return, and the lengths that these women must go to in order to prove themselves. While certain sports that have long-catered to older athletes, such as rowing and golf,  have shown progressiveness in this space, it seems much of the world of athletics is placing assumptions on women who have given birth: that they’ll never get it back. But Ennis-Hill and the other Olympic mothers who continue to return full-form to competition disprove just that.

That’s what we really want to talk about today, the concept of ‘getting your body back’. While this phrase can be taken very literally, we want to encourage you to think about it in another way. Of course, it’s not that the case that you “lost” your body, it’s still there, you can look down and touch it right now. In fact, your body has done one of the most amazing things a body can do, and we want you to celebrate that. But here at Baby2Body, we are proponents of the notion of getting your body back, and we want to discuss what that means.

Let’s look back at Olympic Mothers; for these elite athletes it’s not about looking a certain way after birth or getting back one’s six-pack – it’s about regaining strength, stamina, power, and agility. That’s what it’s all about – getting back to your healthiest self. Here’s the thing – your body is yours to define – and we want to help you by providing the most information, inspiration, and motivation possible to help you regain whatever it is that is important to you in optimizing your health.

Getting your body back is not about going back to who you were or what you looked like before baby, it’s about getting your uterus back in shape and ready for another baby (should you choose to have one); it’s about getting your strength back so you can keep up with an increasingly busy baby; it’s about doing things to help you get your sleep back so you can get much-needed rest; it’s about regaining abdominal strength to help with back pain and posture; it’s about reaching and maintaining whatever is important to you as a new mom, so that you can feel your very best. For some women that are losing baby weight, for some it’s having strong arms or legs, for some it’s about regaining pelvic floor strength to help with incontinence, and for some, it’s getting back to the Olympics. That’s what getting your body back means to us: helping women get to wherever they want to go or maintain a lifestyle that feels best to them. 

Here’s the thing, expectations, and passions change throughout life, and many elite athletes have decided to leave competition upon becoming a mother – and that’s OK too. Having a child is a huge life-changing moment. As Ennis-Hill has hinted at retirement and her desire to have another child in the coming years, it goes to show that ‘getting it back’ can have very different meanings at different times in our life. Ultimately, we want to help you believe in yourself and know that you can ‘get back’ to where you want to be, and give you the resources to do so.

So yes, to all of our new mothers and soon-to-be mothers reading this – you really are no different from these elite athletes in the effort to ‘get your body back’, and we’ll be here to help you find what that means to you and ultimately achieve. Always remember, at the end of the day it is yours to define.

Before we sign off (for more Olympic viewing most likely) we want to celebrate #gettingyourBLANKback by honoring 5 Olympic mothers competing in Rio right now:

Jessica Ennis-Hill – Track & Field (Heptathlon)

By now you know her story. Ennis-Hill wowed audiences and secured her place as one of the most dazzling athletes in the world at the London 2012 Olympics by winning Heptathlon gold. In 2014 she gave birth to a baby boy, whom she’s said “is better than a gold medal”. This year in Rio, at age 30, Ennis-Hill scored a mere 200 points shy of her performance 4 years ago, and that earned her a silver medal.

While her coach, Toni Minichiello recently said regarding the 2016 Olympics:

“I speak of it as ‘PP PBs’, which is ‘post-pregnancy personal bests’. I’m not trying to go back and look at Jess in her prime, training 30 hours a week, most days twice a day. We just can’t do that any more, so to draw a parallel between that person and the person now, I think is unfair. I made a conscious decision to wipe the slate clean and she starts from zero in every event. I try not to reflect back. She does, and I think that’s quite natural, but I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s sensible.”

Ennis-Hill is known for setting her own expectations for herself, being quoted as saying:

“The only one who can tell you “you can’t win” is you and you don’t have to listen.” 

Following her most recent and incredibly impressive Olympic performance, Ennis-Hill said:

“I’ve got to go away now and make a decision as to what I do. I don’t want to cry on TV, but yeah, these years have been amazing, so I’m really proud.”

Oksana Chusovitina – Uzbekistan, Gymnastics

Oksana Chusovitina is arguably the most incredible Olympic athlete in the world. Aged 41 and mother to 17-year-old son Alishar, she is competing at her SEVENTH Olympic games this year in Rio. Over the years, she has competed for the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, and Germany, and she currently holds the world record for most individual world championship medals on a single event (9, on the vault).

She gave birth to her son in 1999 and less than a year later, competed in the Sydney Games. Two years later, her son was diagnosed with Leukemia. The family moved to Germany for his treatment, and while her son was battling Cancer, Chusovitina continued her training and began competing for Germany. In 2008 she won her first Olympic medal – a silver on the vault, and when she returned home she got the biggest reward of all – her son was cancer-free.

“Medals, no medals, it really doesn’t matter when you hear this news. [No] medal could compare to this type of phone call. When your son is healthy, you can’t compare any athletic achievements with that.”

“I do a lot of mental training. I have muscle memory that my body has developed over the years. I typically put in two to two-and-a-half hours in the gym. Then, I visualize exactly how the skill needs to be done. I do this in my head, and when I get to the gym, all the mental preparation that I did after breakfast or just walking around, it just transfers to the gym and, if I’m vaulting, I know exactly what my body needs to be doing. I know exactly what I need to be doing to get a better execution or a better height or a better landing.”

Kristin Armstrong – USA, Cycling

Kristin Armstrong is a professional road bicycle racer and three times Olympic gold medalist; the winner of the women’s individual time trial in Beijing 2008, London 2012, and again in Rio 2016. Armstrong married her husband, Joe Savola, in 2007, and the couple welcomed their son, Lucas, into the world in September 2010, and she started training for London only 2 months later. Lucas joined his mom on the podium when she won gold in 2012.

“It was very hard at first, not only physically but mentally — the guilt that I had as a mom,” says Armstrong, who has been married to Savola for almost five years. “Waking up and leaving my baby to go train was a lot of times, a sick feeling. ‘Am I really doing this? Is it right? What will people think of me?’ Now I talk to other women who have gone through this, and it’s normal. Now I see it’s a good thing, the break that Lucas has from me and I have (from him). It makes us much happier.”

But that doesn’t make any of it easy, as evidenced by some insight on the tolls of training from her trainer, Jim Miller:

“Quite honestly, when she started training again, it was a struggle. It was a struggle to figure out how much energy the baby took from breastfeeding, how much energy the baby took by not getting full nights of sleep. … It was much harder than either of us thought it was going to be…”

Eloise Wellings – Australia, Athletics (Running)

Eloise first qualified to represent Australia ahead of the 2000 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, she missed Sydney, Athens, and Beijing due to injury – but that hasn’t stopped her since. She competed in London 12 and is currently competing in the Rio 10,000m and 5,000m.

“Navigating family life and full time work is a challenge in most households but prioritising what is important, being organised and also communicating well is super important for us to get through the week unscathed. We also prioritise sleep, health and nutrition. We eat well and take vitamins like magnesium and Ubiquinol to help us get the most out of the energy we eat in food. We are also really conscious to schedule in regular rest days (this is most Sundays) where we are just relaxing at home together.”

Kerri Walsh-Jennings – USA, Beach Volleyball

Kerri Walsh-Jennings is one of the fiercest athletes to hit any sport on the Olympic circuit, and her drive and passion are awe-inspiring. The 37-year old is well-accustomed to being an Olympic mother, as she has 7-year old son Joey, 6-year old son Sundance, and 3-year old daughter Scout. In the London 2012 Olympics, Walsh-Jennings competed at 5 weeks pregnant with her daughter, and went on to secure her third gold medal in beach volleyball. Having won in Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 with Misty May-Treanor as her partner, Walsh-Jennings is continuing to dazzle audiences in the sand with her new partner April Ross. Today, the incredibly talented pair will compete in the quarterfinals, and if they win, Walsh-Jennings will be one step closer to her fourth gold, something that has never been done by one individual in the history of the Olympic sport.

In a recent interview, here’s what Walsh-Jennings has said about motherhood and her full-time job as an athlete:

“I think I was born to have babies, and play volleyball. My biggest stress in life is that I don’t feel like I have enough time. I’m constantly sprinting. I show up, I play, I’m mommy. I’m mommy, I show up, I play, I’m mommy. I’m combining everything I want to be, which is a working mom, a loving wife, and a kick-butt athlete, and the reality is, we’re going to win a gold medal.”

“My priorities are my faith, my family, and my career. I want to win a fourth gold medal, I would love to have a fourth baby.”

Her husband – and fellow professional volleyball player – had this to say of his wife of 11 years:

“Every time she leaves the house whether it’s for 2 days or two weeks, she’s in tears, she doesn’t ever want to leave the kids. But her drive overrides that, she goes and gets to work, and kicks butt.”

What does ‘getting your body back’ mean to you? Share in the comments below!

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