Olympian bodies, mommy edition

Some female athletes find that pregnancy and childbirth improve their game.


Kate Harding
August 5, 2008 10:35PM (UTC)

On the same day when a depressing new report about postpartum health was released, it’s nice to see Cookie magazine’s feature on "Olympic moms" Dara Torres, Lisa Leslie and Melanie Roach coming back stronger than ever after giving birth. The piece on Leslie is a fairly standard "How I got back into my pre-baby jeans!" deal, which doesn’t interest me a whole lot (if I ever get pregnant, my master plan is to buy new jeans), but the other two stories discuss how pregnancy and childbirth actually had unexpected benefits for Torres' and Roach's athletic careers.

Multiple medal-winning swimmer Torres found that carrying extra weight and altering her training routine while pregnant ultimately improved her performance instead of slowing her down: "Once she gave birth and was back in the pool, her trainers were startled by her increased flexibility, and her coaches were stunned by her new speed in the water, the result of all the swimming she had done while freighted with Tessa and some 36 extra pounds." Just over a year after giving birth, she won gold at the U.S. Nationals and twice broke a record she'd set at age 15.

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Roach, meanwhile, found that having three babies in a relatively short time allowed her to revive a weightlifting career she'd thought was over. After becoming the first American woman to lift twice her own body weight in 1998, she was injured too badly to compete in the 2000 Olympics, where she'd been expected to medal. Chronic pain and depression followed, but pregnancy actually offered some relief from the constant pressure on her injured back. She began some light training again while pregnant, started seeing a chiropractor and eventually -- after getting herself back into competition -- had back surgery. This past May, she won her spot on the 2008 Olympics team, an achievement she believes would never have happened if she hadn't had kids.

When so much of the news about postpartum life is bad -- sure, you'll experience the greatest joy you've ever known, right alongside crippling depression, diminished bladder control and a decimated body image -- it's really refreshing to hear about women for whom childbearing led to both greater career success and an improved relationship with their own bodies. Good luck at the games, moms!


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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