XTERRA moms embracing the challenges of balancing family life with pro sports

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 5:45 p.m. MDT

Emma Gerrard, left, and her son Torin pose for a picture with fellow XTERRA pro Kelly Cullen and her son Brody.

Courtesy XTERRA

OGDEN — As a professional triathlete, Emma Garrard is accustomed to paying attention to the needs of her body.

That’s never a simple task, but for the 32-year-old Park City woman, it became a lot more complicated after she gave birth to her now 9-month-old son Torin last winter.

“The physical side was basically what I expected,” said Garrard, who will compete in the XTERRA National Championships at Snowbasin this Saturday. The event also has categories for recreational triathletes, and on Sunday the ski resort will host the XTERRA National Trail Running Championships, which are also open to the public.

“Returning to fitness did take time but I feel because I was fit when I got pregnant, and stayed active during pregnancy, did not gain a lot of extra weight and had a natural uncomplicated child birth, I was able to get back in shape quicker than most," she said. "That being said, I totally underestimated the time and energy demands (of) nursing, especially during the first four months.”

The morning of her first race, which was the XTERRA West Championships in May, she found herself with a new primary concern — the timing of Torin’s breakfast. She needed to nurse as close to race time as possible so she wasn’t carrying a lot of extra weight during the competition.

“I’m still nursing and it’s still an issue,” she said, adding that she’s grateful to the inventor of the breast pump as it allows mothers some freedom while offering their children the advantages of nursing. “The biggest issue is making sure I can feed the baby as close to the start as possible, for his benefit and for mine.” Balancing the demands of a professional athletic career and the desire to have a family can be difficult for any athlete. But for women, there are a host of issues and situations that their male counterparts may never face.

First of all, there is the decision about when and if to start a family while competing. Garrard’s pregnancy was unplanned but welcomed nonetheless. Other athletes, like Canada’s Brandi Heisterman, make the choice to take some time away from the sport, sometimes in the prime of their physical careers. More and more women, especially in sports like triathlon and running, are making the choice to try and balance family life with both a job and a professional racing career. They admit it isn't always easy, but it's definitely worth it.

“I was approaching 30,” said Heisterman, who will also compete this weekend.

“I just really wanted to have my kids by 30 or around 30. I really wanted a family, and I thought it’s better to start now than to wait.”

She decided that if she had to chose between professional racing and having a family, she’d rather be a mother. She had no idea if she’d have the ability or the desire to compete after having her children, now 7 and 5 years old.

“The desire didn’t go out,” she said. “I thought it might, but after a few years, I was right back in it.”

Both women have to adjust their schedules to fit the needs of their young families. Both have other jobs, in addition to their professional athletic careers, and agree that having children brings a kind of focus and urgency to training that may not have existed before they were moms.

“I’m usually quite excited to get out and train,” said Heisterman. “If it’s pouring rain, that’s too bad. This is my little bit of time to be alone, look around the forest. This is my time, and I’m going to make it count.”

For Heisterman, that focus has made her a better competitor.

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