The Olympic mothers who really do deserve a medal!
The Olympic mothers who really do deserve a medal! They trained until their waters broke, expressed enough milk to fill a freezer – and did jump squats surrounded by Lego
- Olympic organisers have reversed a Covid ban on babies travelling to Japan
- Team GB Olympians reveal how they balance their sport with being a mother
- Naomi Folkard, 37, expressed 75 packs of breast milk before leaving for Japan
- Rower Helen Glover, 35, says the pandemic has allowed her to go to Tokyo
- Find out the latest Tokyo Olympic news including schedule, medal table and results right here
The Olympics start tomorrow — but elite athletes who are mums have already scored a significant victory.
Late last month, organisers caved in to pressure from team members nursing infants and reversed a Covid ban on their babies travelling to Japan. While other family members and older children will still have to stay at home, newborns can come with their mums, meaning female competitors — including Team GB’s Naomi Folkard, mother to five-month-old Emily — are no longer forced to choose between leaving them for up to a month or not competing at all.
The pandemic has created unique dilemmas for the Olympics, but mothers have long faced barriers to elite level competition. Events have only slowly opened to women — hockey in 1980, badminton in 1992, football in 1996, almost 100 years after the men’s game — but as each new sport is added, the number of mums at the Games has slowly increased.
Of course it takes a very special woman to combine motherhood with a quest for gold. Last weekend Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill told Desert Island Discs her proudest achievement is not winning the heptathlon at London 2012, but clinching a World Championship and a silver medal at Rio 2016 . . . after becoming a mother.
Team GB Olympians reveal how they balance the demands of professional sports with being a mother, including Archer Naomi Folkard, 37, (pictured) who is mother to five-month-old daughter Emily
I know just how hard it is to become an Olympian. My daughter competed for Team GB in the rugby sevens at Rio in 2016 and I witnessed first hand the tenacity, single-mindedness and relentless work ethic required to get there. How much tougher must it be when you’re faced with the huge demands on time and energy brought by children?
Here, on the eve of Tokyo, Femail talks to four of the six heroic Team GB Olympians who are also mothers, to find out how on earth they do it . . .
I’VE EXPRESSED 75 BAGS OF BREAST MILK
Archer Naomi Folkard, 37, has represented Great Britain in four Olympics — Tokyo will be her fifth — and won gold medals at the World and European Games. She lives in Newport, Shropshire, with partner Jon, 45, and their five-month-old daughter Emily.
Jon and I were trying for a baby in 2019 – the same year I won a gold at the European Games with the women’s team and a silver in the mixed team.
At our age we couldn’t wait for ever. I’d miscarried in 2018 — quite common but still heart-breaking. Then I got pregnant again at the start of the pandemic. Fortunately the 2020 Olympics were postponed because of Covid.
I trained carefully during my pregnancy to make sure my heart rate stayed within the safe zone; my weights got progressively lighter and breaks between sets longer. Right until the day my waters broke, I continued shooting.
When Emily was born in February, I really thought it wouldn’t be possible to go to Tokyo. I’d been quite judgmental of friends who’d had babies and continued to compete, although I’d never said anything out loud.
But they persuaded me I was wrong; that it wasn’t just a mother’s job to look after a baby, but a father’s as well.
Tokyo has now reversed its ban on the babies of nursing mothers, which I welcome. But it’s come too late for me to change my plans and she’ll still stay here with Jon.
Before I left for Japan, I expressed 75 packs of my breast milk for her. I’d been working on it for weeks. Every night, for a couple of hours after she’d gone to bed I sat down with the breast pump. I filled a whole compartment of the freezer and had to order a new one.
Naomi (pictured) said her posture isn’t quite back to normal since her pregnancy and it was tough staying away from home one night as a test
Since Emily’s birth I’ve been really focused on my training. I want to make every second count, so I don’t waste time. Typically I shoot for four hours every day and spend an hour or so on fitness: either strength and conditioning, specific shoulder work or cardio.
Emily used to come with me in her off-road buggy.
On good days she’d sit there and fall asleep, but there were times when I’d think: ‘This is hopeless’. She’d need her nappy changing or feeding or just need a bit of fuss and a cuddle.
My posture still isn’t quite back to normal since my pregnancy. Usually my hips are tucked under, my back flat, but now my bum sticks out and my back is arched.
My hips still feel a bit jelly-like. It’s quite bizarre.
I’ve stayed away from home for one night with the squad as a test and it was really tough. I’ve always put Emily to bed; fed her then tucked her up in her little crib. It was the first time I’d been away.
But my teammates will make it easier. They filled the time when I was really missing her with silly games and laughter.
Emily is the most important thing in my life but I suppose my greatest triumph is winning world medals. Much as my daughter is amazing, almost anyone can have a baby.
A medal is more of an accomplishment.
I’M FIRST MUM TO BE OLYMPIC ROWER
Rower Helen Glover, 35, has twice won Olympic gold and is a triple world champion and quintuple World Cup champion. She and her husband, TV host and naturalist Steve Backshall, 48, have three children, three- year-old Logan and 16-month-old twins Bo and Kit. Helen, competes in Tokyo with Heather Stanning in the women’s pairs.
Helen Glover, 35, who has three children (pictured), said there’s no way she would have been going to Tokyo, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic
If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, there’s no way I’d be going to Tokyo. I wasn’t planning to come back to the sport after having kids, and when the Olympics were supposed to be happening in 2020, I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with the twins.
I was planning to watch the games from my sofa with a couple of newborns cuddled on my lap. But then we went into lockdown and I started to exercise because it’s what I’ve always done.
When the decision was taken to defer the Games, it actually opened up an opportunity for me. It seemed ridiculous — I’d been out of the sport for four years having children, anticipating my retirement, but now I was training in my sitting room, doing jump squats, trying to avoid landing on Lego.
Training from home meant I could be my own boss and write my own programme around the childrens’ needs. They come first in everything.
They’re all early risers so we’re up at 5am. In the lead-up to the Games, it was nice because I didn’t leave the house to do my couple of hours on the water until 7.30 and I really cherished those hours with the kids.
When I told people I wanted to try to get into the Olympics I knew a lot hung on it.
Helen (pictured), who breastfed her twins for 14 months, said she’s conscious of paving the way for other women and being a strong role model
I’d be the first mum within British rowing to make an Olympics. I was conscious of paving the way for other women and being a strong role model, not least for my daughter.
I’d be able to show my children what you can achieve through commitment and motivation.
I breastfed the twins for 14 months. I’d hate anyone to think it was easy. The sleepless nights were draining but the second I got out of the door to row I felt energised. And the further I went on, the more excited I got. I realised the Olympics could really happen.
Originally I pictured Steve and the children being with me in Tokyo but there won’t be any spectators now. Steve will be looking after them and they’ll be cheering me on from home.
Winning gold is less important when you have children. Your perspective shifts. I think how lucky I am to be a professional rower. I’ve worked hard on compartmentalising my life. Rowing used to be everything, all I thought about. Now I walk in the door, still in my sweaty rowing kit, and I’m just Mum to them.
Steve is my cheerleader. He’s also an annoyingly good dad.
Recently he took all the children to the zoo for the day. I thought: ‘This’ll be a test of how he manages the three of them.’
And he came back and there hadn’t even been one tantrum. For the last two months he’s been really busy, full-on filming, so it’s just been me and the children.
When fitting in the training proved tricky, my mum came up from Cornwall to help. When I’m training it’s all about mental focus, getting faster, being more efficient; getting your mind ready.
‘I’m discovering a new version of me; how the experience of being a mum has changed me. The fact that I’ve been able to do it and still put the kids first, without dropping the ball — that’s what gives me the most professional pride.
n Helen is brand ambassador for outdoor experts Cotswold Outdoor. cotswoldoutdoor.com
TRAINING LEFT ME TOO TIRED FOR PLAY
Lizzie Deignan’s status as a world-class road cyclist was confirmed when she earned silver at London 2012, becoming the first British athlete to get a medal at the home Games. In 2016 she was world, Commonwealth and national road champion. Born in Yorkshire, Lizzie, 32, now lives in Monaco with her husband, former professional road racing cyclist Phil, 37, and their two-year-old daughter Orla. In Tokyo, she competes in the women’s 137km road race.
Lizzie Deignan, 32, (pictured), who lives in Monaco, took six months off competing because her daughter Orla didn’t sleep through until seven months
When I was pregnant, Phil and I both considered continuing to race — but we’d underestimated what becoming parents would entail. Phil retired when Orla was born: the decision was made for him because his professional contract wasn’t renewed. But we wouldn’t have managed if we’d both been on the road.
So now he’s my coach. He started his own coaching business so he can work round Orla and when I saw how well he was coaching his clients, I thought: ‘I’d like a bit of that.’ He monitors everyone’s progress online and works out their training programmes while Orla’s asleep.
I had a little rest in the first three months of my pregnancy, which were the hardest: I had morning sickness and was very tired.
I did indoor sessions but I couldn’t wait to get outside again. I worried most about crashing, so I altered my schedule slightly and went out when there was less traffic. I was cycling until three days before I gave birth.
Being a mum was overwhelming at first. We totally misjudged how hard the early months would be. Orla was a difficult baby, colicky and grizzly. She didn’t sleep through until seven months, so I took six months off competing.
But I was surprised how quickly I got back to top fitness once I started racing again. I lost a lot of fat from breastfeeding and my body is much leaner now.
Tokyo will be my third Olympics. Phil and Orla won’t be coming with me because of Covid restrictions. Every athlete who is a mum has her own opinion on this, but even if I were allowed to take Orla, I wouldn’t want her to come — my focus would wander too much.
Lizzie said she will video call Phil and Orla four or five times a day during the games, then fly straight home after ten days in Tokyo
During recovery time, I need to be able to switch off rather than chasing around a play park all afternoon. Training really ramped up in the six weeks before these Games. I’d start around 10am and do three to five hours, which means some afternoons I was just too tired to play with Orla.
Sometimes, I look at my rivals who haven’t got children and think: ‘How am I expected to compete against them? I’ve got so much on my plate.’
But I got through because Phil was so supportive. And Orla makes me laugh every day.
During the Games, we’ll video- call four or five times a day, and after ten days in Tokyo I’ll fly straight home. It’s very humbling becoming a mum, but I still want to win gold in Tokyo. It will make the sacrifices worthwhile.
AS A MOTHER, I’VE BECOME MENTALLY STRONGER
Boxer Charley Davison, 27, competes in the flyweight category. She lives in Lowestoft, Suffolk, with her partner Bruce, a restaurant owner, and their three children, Arnell, eight, Armani, six, and Amir, four.
Growing up, I dreamed of competing in the Olympics. It came from my dad: he never boxed himself, but we’d watch it on TV, without fail — and one day, he thought: ‘Let’s see if she’s got anything.’ And I did!
We’d play around in the dining room with massive adult gloves and pads, but when I tried to join my local boxing club, aged eight, I was told it was men only. Thankfully they changed their minds a year later and I went on to win four major national competitions during my teens. At 17, I met my partner, Bruce. Two years later, we had a baby. It was planned and I wasn’t sure if I’d want to return to boxing. In the end, I took seven years off, after having two more kids. Although I missed boxing, I loved being a mum. After having my youngest in 2017, my old coach offered to help me make a comeback.
Charley Davison, 27, (pictured), who lives in Lowestoft, Suffolk, said she had to work double time to catch up after having children and is now mentally stronger
Initially, it was challenging juggling training with three kids. I think boxing’s harder than being a mum. So, when you combine the two, it’s crazy.
It was hard to shift the weight. I had to work double time to catch up. I’m mentally stronger than before, though.
There are so many ups and downs with children, it makes you more resilient. They fuel my motivation — when I win a medal, I know it will set my family up for life. They drive me: when I’m in the ring I think about them.
This paid off in 2019, when I won the England Boxing National Amateur Championships which earnt me an assessment with GB Boxing. I was added to the GB Boxing squad in January 2020 then selected to go to the Olympic qualifier.
It was tough training four days a week at the GB Boxing gym in Sheffield but my coach said give it one last shot, otherwise you’ll wish you’d tried. Bruce was so supportive, going part-time at work to look after the kids. Without him, I couldn’t have done it.
During lockdown, I trained in the garden, while he helped with home schooling. When I had to isolate for two weeks, before qualifiers, he stopped working to do full-time childcare.
I’ll be gone for six weeks. He admits some days are tough: they do test you. But he enjoys it, and says he’d do it for ever if it means I could do what I love.
I do miss the kids — the little things like school runs and making dinner — but I’ve never thought: I don’t want to do this. Training helps to distract me. And I’m grateful to be able to sleep when I want!
I do think that women can have it all. It annoys me when people say you can’t do this, or that, with kids. I have three, so you can definitely do it with one.
It’s all about balance. And how much you want it.
interview: Florence Scordoulis
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