Elite athlete mums

running with pram

Image source: Blazej Lyjak
Return to running after giving birth.

So heptathlete and Olympic gold medal winner Jessica Ennis-Hill is pregnant.

She definitely won’t be competing at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow this year – but will she make it back in time to defend her title at the 2016 Olympics in Rio?

She says she will, and why not? She certainly won’t be the first mum to bounce back.

In fact, research shows that pregnancy can actually be a performance booster. Never mind multivitamins and protein powder, expecting a baby increases blood volume by up to 60% meaning the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood rises by almost a third – a physiological change that lasts into the first few months of motherhood.

Of course these gains must be weighed against the extreme exertion involved in giving birth and all the sleepless nights that follow. But if jessica is looking for some examples to keep her motivated, here are our favourite elite sporting mums.

Paula Radcliffe

It’s fair to say most of Paula Radcliffe’s best running was over and done with by the time she had her first child back in 2006. But there was still more to come. Despite picking up injuries during her comeback, she still managed to win the 2007 and 2008 New York marathons as well as the half in 2009.

Now at the tender age of 40, and despite having run on an undiagnosed broken foot for 18 years, the long distance superstar has lost none of her competitive spirit. She has vowed to come back for one last hurrah before hanging up her running shoes for good. Whether she can is anyone’s guess, but she certainly thinks Jessicas Ennis can do it.

Here’s what she said in an interview for the Independent: “Jess is a phenomenal athlete and I’ve no doubt she’ll be back to the very top.”

Shelley Rudman

If you ever thought motherhood was a barrier to hurtling headfirst down a mountain at 50 mph, think again. Shelley Rudman is the current skeleton world champion and mum to six year old Ella. As she trains in Lillehammer for the coming winter games in Sochi, Shelly juggles track and gym sessions with two hours daily home tutoring for her daughter.

Rudman who also won silver at the 2006 winter olympics in Turin, says that her daughter is her main motivation for competing in this year’s event. Interviewed by the BBC, she said:  “At the back of my mind, I thought ‘how cool would it be for Ella to say she’s been at an Olympics to watch her mum compete.’

Liz McColgan

As far as postpartum role models go, Jessica could do worse than take a leaf out of Liz McColgan’s book. The 49 year old mother of five took the world 10,000 metres title in Tokyo in 1991, a mere nine months after having her first child, Eilish. In fact, Liz ran her first race just five and a half weeks after the birth. The same year she won the New York marathon and just to prove her success was more than a flash in the pan, she also stormed home to win the 1996 London marathon.

Does Liz McColgan think Ennis can get back to winning ways? In an article in the Daily Mail, she is quoted as saying, “The world championships and Olympics will definitely be possible for Jessica, but it just depends whether she has the motivation. She wants to carry on now, but she might feel differently after she has a baby.”

Sonia O’Sullivan

Former Irish athlete Sonia O’sullivan is nothing if not a comeback mum having done it not once, but twice. After taking most of 1999 off to have a baby, she was back training 11 days after the birth and went on to take silver at the 2000 Sydney olympics.
In 2001, she again took time out to have a baby, returning to race in March 2002. That year she won silver medals in the 5000 and 10,000 metres at the European athletics championships in Munich – although as she admitted at the time, she was far outclassed by Paula Radcliffe who beat her by 46 seconds in the 10k race.

Kim Clijsters

Spectacular exponent of women’s tennis, Kim Clijsters has as she puts it, enjoyed two tennis careers. Her first ended when she retired from the game in 2007 – something she planned to do but had to bring forward because of injury. During the next two years, the tennis star experienced marriage, the birth of her first child and the death of her father. Then she reentered the fray.

Kim’s second career ran from her comeback in 2009 until her final retirement at the end of 2012. As second careers go, Clijsters’ was stellar. She won the US Open in 2009 and 2010 and in 2011 took the Australian Open. Her 2009 US Open victory was the first Grand Slam won by a mother since 1980 when Australian, Evonne Goolagong Cawley claimed the prize.

Sophia Warner

A brain injury after she was born by forceps delivery left Paralympian, Sophia Warner with partial paralysis of both legs and total paralysis of her left arm. But that hasn’t stopped the mum of two performing at the elite level of her chosen sport, the T35 100 and 200 metres.

Sophia often takes her children with her to the track, where they sometimes run a warm up lap with her. And to prove motherhood is no obstacle to performance at the top level, Sophia won silver and bronze medals at the 2011 IPC world championships in Christchurch New Zealand and was a finalist at the 2012 London Paralympics.

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