Pregnancy to Podium
“My Gutsy Story®” by Susie Mitchell
I am Susie, 37 year first time mom to a lovely vibrant baby girl Tori. I have always had an active lifestyle and loved sport from a young age. Yearning to be really good at something, in fact anything, I had tried everything from shot-putt to surfing, without much success. All that changed in the summer of 2011, when I tried track cycling for the first time. A type of cycling that is carried out at high speeds on an oval banked track using a fixed wheel bike with no brakes, it was exciting and I was hooked immediately. What’s more I was good at it. Racing on the track appealed to my competitive nature and I clearly had potential, winning races within a few weeks of getting up on the bike. When my coach suggested to me I would be good enough to compete in the World Masters Track Cycling Championships in Manchester the following October, a dream was ignited, and it became my focus. I had never competed internationally in any sport and was giddy at the thoughts of it. Then a massive curveball came my way – I became pregnant. I did not want to let go of my new found passion after waiting all these years to find it. I knew so many people who gave up their exercise and hobbies when they became pregnant and never went back. I wanted to hang onto my sport and my identity through pregnancy and becoming a mum for the first time.
Despite all the opinions to the contrary, I was determined to find a way to train safely and effectively through my pregnancy. I had always believed in the benefits of exercise during pregnancy and being a vet I had always marvelled how animals took all this in their stride. I searched the internet for all I could find on exercise and pregnancy and found only conservative advice. “Gentle jogging or easy swimming” didn’t appeal to me and wasn’t going to help me to the World Masters the following October. Turning my back on the internet and the colloquial advice that abounded, I focussed on what the science said to use as my guide. Surprisingly, after extensive reviewing of research and scientific papers, I discovered very little evidence to stop me doing pretty much anything while carrying a baby. Through this research and with the help of my coach, I found a way to maintain fitness and train through pregnancy safely.
The best advice I got was from one scientist and pretty simple – “listen to your body”. I used this as my mantra when working out. If it felt OK, I did it. I got some funny looks from people in the gym when I was lifting weights and doing core work. I got disapproving glances when I was in the park riding my bike. However, I forged ahead, as my coach and I had devised a set of guidelines for safe cycling which I trusted, giving me the confidence to go on. I worked on things like mental preparation and leg speed when I couldn’t do anything else. With some careful planning and research I found something suitable to do at every stage of the pregnancy. I trained right up until I was 10 days overdue and thought I had it all sorted.
A surprise was in store. You can prepare, but nothing prepares you for it. The impact of having a baby on your life is colossal. My goal had been to arrive at the birth of my baby in peak physical condition. I had achieved this and in ways was probably fitter then I ever had been. I had trained with my bump in ways I never thought possible, and had enjoyed every minute of it.
However, when my beautiful healthy baby arrived into the world, everything went out the window. I had a dose of reality to deal with, grappling with the concept of being responsible for another human being for the rest of my life. I watched people through my window cycling past as I sat inside in my pyjamas trying to feed my baby and wondered would I ever get out and ride my bike again. I was physically exhausted from lack of sleep but more importantly I was mentally falling apart. I started to wonder if I was ever going to feel normal or be as happy and carefree as before. The whole experience, to my utter shock, had totally floored me.
Salvation came from the bike. Two weeks after the birth I tentatively got back in the saddle and started rolling around. Those first few laps pushing the pedals with the wind in my face felt like pure heaven. I was myself again, doing something for me, but with the bonus of a beautiful baby to go back to after a training session. The effects of sleep deprivation were nearly completely negated by exercise. I hadn’t foreseen it, but my sport kept me mentally strong during those difficult first few weeks post-partum, helping me cope.
My return to form came so much quicker than I could have expected winning my first ever National medal just 6 weeks after the birth. I added others in the following months as I went from strength to strength culminating in my fulfilling my dream, travelling to compete in the World Masters in Manchester just 4 months after Tori arrived.
The event I was targeting was the individual pursuit. I was nervous with anticipation but when the starting gun went I knuckled down and rode my heart out, going faster than ever before, scooping the world title by just half a second. A lifelong dream had been fulfilled; I had excelled and was now a World Champion! Standing on the podium, wearing the rainbow jersey, the gold medal hanging around my neck and the Irish national anthem playing, tears streamed down my face. I knew that none of this would have been possible without having my baby, she trained with me, and she gave me energy, inspiration and focus, and made me strong. By being determined to maintain my identity, I ended up finding a new one, reinventing myself as a credible athlete, discovering it was possible to fuse motherhood and sport at a high level. Unless I had lived this story, I never would have thought it possible to have both in such perfect synergy.
SUSIE MITCHELL is a 37-year-old first time mom to a lovely baby girl, Tori. She currently lives in Dublin, Ireland with her supportive and long suffering husband Cormac. Working as a fish vet, she travels the length and breadth of the country visiting fish farms, jumping on and off trawlers in all kinds of weather. Susie has always enjoyed sport coming from a background of surfing and adventure racing, and more recently track cycling. She tries to juggle being a mum, wife, training and working with reasonable success.
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SONIA MARSH SAYS: Susie, first of all Congratulations on your medal and your determination. As a woman who loves weight training, I can relate to the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. I shall never forget the look on people’s faces at the gym in Paris, when I benched and my bump was six-months out there. Keep training!
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