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.
“If anything, I feel like before I over-trained,” Heisterman said. “I had time to over-train. Now I don’t have time to ever over-train. It’s quality and only quality. I get in, train, get out. I try to do a workout while everyone is sleeping also.”
A schoolteacher, Heisterman also sets up fun activities with baby sitters, and her children often get to stay with their grandparents when she travels.
“I try to make it fun for them while I am away,” she said. “But if I have to miss a workout for my kids, I miss a workout. I try really hard not to make life all about me."
She admits the fact that her children are young is helpful, as she controls everything in their lives right now. Still, she struggles with moments of “mom guilt.” “I sometimes feel guilt that I’m being selfish,” Heisterman said. “Am I being too selfish in continuing with this sport, even though I absolutely love it? That’s my hardest issue.”
Garrard said being a mom is now just another aspect of her identity.
“It’s been rewarding but challenging returning to triathlon on a professional level,” she said. “It was pretty intimidating at first, but having other moms out there helped a lot. It took a lot of patience at the beginning, then I got to the point where I had to tell myself to stop using having a baby as an excuse.”
Garrard, who is also a ski instructor, believes her athletic career can only enhance her parenting.
“I think I’m a better mother if I get out and run,” she said. “If I was running 10 hours a day, that might be different, but I’m running for an hour or two, and I feel like I leave him in good hands.”
Both women are grateful for the support of friends and family, especially their spouses, as that’s key to their ability to succeed. It also helps ease that guilt to see other mothers successfully navigating the same course.
“When I do XTERRA, I see all of these moms and I don’t feel so selfish,” Heisterman said. “I feel more connected in that way, and it’s just a great group of people. There are a lot of moms and dads, and there are so many of us now, you don’t feel like you’re that one person, that woman who left her kids.” Gerrard said knowing other women were able to continue their professional racing careers after having children was a comfort to her.
“It was so helpful, especially initially when I found out I was pregnant to know that they got back into it, that they were doing really well at it,” Garrard said. “Some even had their best results after they had kids. They were able to juggle training, working, racing and traveling to races.” Ultimately, both women believe finding success at home and in their professional racing endeavors has a lot to do with finding balance.
“I love being a mom and enjoy raising my son and seeing (him) grow more than I ever thought I would,” said Garrard.
Heisterman hopes her children have the endless possibilities of life in their mom’s successes.
“I hope I am a role model for them,” she said. “They love riding their bikes, and I put them in little races. I just want them to have a love for sport, to be active, to feel good about themselves.”