9 Elite Athletes Share What It's Really Like To Compete After Pregnancy

It's an emotional challenge for new moms to dedicate so much of their time to training.
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For Glamour, by Katie Friedman.

Returning to any job after you give birth is tough, but elite athletes have some special challenges: Resuming their training after a pregnancy is not only a difficult task for the body, but it’s also an emotional challenge for new moms to dedicate so much of their time to training. Since Serena Williams’ coach has suggested she will be returning to tennis next year after the birth of her first child, we took a look at what changes new mothers noticed in their body and performance after their pregnancy. Of course, every athlete’s body is different, but from Olympic beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings to Olympic long-distance runner Kara Goucher, these mothers are incredibly strong and prove that it’s possible to find a balance. Here’s what they had to say about returning to their sport.

Amy Rodriguez

“My plan was never to have children and play on our national team, but what I know now is how much has been put in place by previous moms like Christie Rampone; she’s paved the way for other moms like me,” Rodriguez told KUOW shortly after her son was born. “It’s certainly not easy to bounce back after having a baby — I can say that firsthand. I know how hard I’ve worked, and I’m going to continue to work hard, because it’s basically like returning from an injury.”

Dana Vollmer

"I feel happier with my sport than I ever have," Vollmer shared with the San Francisco Chronicle about returning to swimming after the birth of her son, Arlen. "I'm super excited to get up and train. I just have a better balance. It's a different journey."

Jessica Enis-Hill

“When you have your first child and you’re pregnant, most mums don’t really think about how much their body will change," British track-and-field star Ennis-Hill told The Telegraph. "I could never have imagined how hard it would be. You think, I’ll have a baby; it’ll be fine and he’ll just lie there quietly while I train. But it’s never like that. It doesn’t happen overnight. I was an athlete before I had Reggie, so my body did get back quicker than your average woman's. It’s important for women to know you don’t have to get back to your tiny figure or whatever you were before in a matter of weeks. My body is my job, so I had to get back. But it’s whatever makes you happy, and your first priority is your baby at that time.”

Nia Ali

"My mentality in training and competition has gotten leaps better [after giving birth]," Ali, a track-and-field athlete explained in Rio. "I feel more myself than I've ever felt."

Paula Radcliffe

"Once you're ready to come back, being an athlete makes things almost easier because it's a profession which allows you to combine training with parenthood," says British marathoner Radcliffe. "I could spend lots of time with the kids and work training around them, and when they were babies, our rest patterns were the same. I'd go training in the morning, play a little with them, and then we'd nap in the afternoon."

Kerri Walsh Jennings

"I have been asked countless times if I regret coming back so soon after my pregnancy," volleyball star and mom of three Walsh Jennings told ESPN. "To this I always say, 'Heck, no!' I love my job."

Catriona Matthew

Just a few months after the birth of her first daughter, pro golfer Catriona won a major trophy in Sweden. "I don't know if [having children] made me stronger," she says, "but it did something." We'll say!

Victoria Azarenka

“Yes, I’ll do it for me, because I want to achieve my full potential, but it’s not anymore just for me,” Belarusian tennis player Azarenka said. “I want to have my son be proud of me. I want to give him a good example that if you have a goal and you have a dream, you can achieve it if you work hard.”

Kara Goucher

"I ran throughout my pregnancy, but I was surprised how strong my legs were after having my son," the famed distance runner Goucher told ESPN. "I was surprised at how a 20-mile run wasn't that bad. The speed took a while to come back, but my legs actually felt stronger after I gave birth than they ever had previously in my career."

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