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Pro Athletes. Pandemic Pregnancies.

The stories below describe the individual experiences of four of our CLIF® athletes. This article is not intended to provide medical or nutrition advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about our products.

Babies. They take a ton of thought and planning, right? We all go through the mental exercises of asking if we’re ready, if we’ll ever be ready, if we can afford it, or if our lives have room for another living, breathing little human to join us.

We got to wondering what that planning and questioning phase is like for professional athletes. They tend to be a regimented breed whose lives revolve around training and competitions. They think of every detail from what foods to put into their bodies to what time the lights need to go out to get just the right amount of sleep. So, what happens when all the planning and strategy gets disrupted by nine and half months of weight gain, reduced training capacity, sleep disturbances, and unplanned food forays (one of these athletes may have eaten an entire cake in under 24 hours while pregnant).

We asked these four CLIF® athletes – who all had pandemic pregnancies – to share their experiences with us; mountain biker Catharine Pendrel, ultra-runner Stephanie Howe, triathlete Sarah Piampiano and snowboarder Kimmy Fasani.

Athlete mom Catharine Pendrel mountain biking

Tell it to us straight, does planning a baby mean putting your career on hold? When you’re at the peak of fitness for competition, what informs this major life decision?

Catharine Pendrel (mountain biker): “The decision was sort-of pandemic assisted. I had met the criteria for Tokyo and then once we knew that was going to be postponed for a year and I was almost 40, we felt like it was the perfect time. You’re always searching for that ‘right time’ to take a break from competing to have a baby and there never really is a right time.”

Stephanie Howe (ultra-trail runner): “I never saw it as having to choose between having a baby and having a career as a runner. Rather, I saw being a mom as fitting into my current life, including my career as an elite runner. I knew I wanted to be a mom someday, and I didn’t want to wait until the ‘perfect time’ to try and not have it happen right away. So, I just decided to see what happened. Turns out I got pregnant right away, which was a great surprise! And my baby surprised me again when he came 3.5 weeks early! I found out that the only thing you really need for a newborn is a car seat.”

Sarah Piampiano (triathlete): “This was supposed to be my last year racing professionally. I also just turned 40 and I had a lot of anxiety about starting a family and trying to mix that in with racing at the top level. In the endurance world, an athlete really has to take 12-14 months away from their sport, and it can take longer to get back to peak performance. In most other careers, you can work right up until you give birth, but that just isn’t possible as an endurance athlete. You can exercise while pregnant, but your training capacity is reduced and you train at such low zones, you’re not competitive for quite a while. So, when things were closing in with the pandemic, we basically decided to take advantage of the opportunity and came up with a plan: I would plan to race in 2021, and we would try to get pregnant by July 2020 in order to make the timing work out to come back after the baby!”

Kimmy Fasani (snowboarder): “I’m the only one of this group that already has one child. And when I planned my first, I had seen that no other women in snowboarding had come back to the sport after having a kid. Between myself and my husband, we’d lost three of our parents to cancer. We just started thinking: wow, we’ve put our careers first all this time, but now we want to have kids while there is still one grandparent left to share it with.”

How much training can they actually do durning pregnancy?

Being unable to do the one thing they can always count on has to be frustrating. The biggest takeaway was learning that things won’t always go as planned, which is a great intro to motherhood. These athletes figured out how to gracefully accept it during pregnancy, listen to their bodies, and take the pressure off.

Catharine: “I had a scare with some implantation bleeding and that was super stressful because my body and pregnancy felt really vulnerable. Not only couldn’t I train, but I couldn’t do anything active for a while. But I had to realize this wasn’t about my goals, it was about what the baby needs to be healthy. It helped me create that separation between my athletic goals and my pregnancy goals. I wondered if this was the baby’s way of telling me: the world doesn’t revolve around your training schedule.”

Sarah: “Baby is 100% my priority. I also love movement in general, so I’ve been embracing that attitude of not being competitive but enjoying being active. I do enjoy having goals, though. I wanted to run a marathon while pregnant. So, I ran a marathon at 17 weeks. But I also would have been ok if I wasn’t up to it.”

Kimmy: “I was able to be on my snowboard until my 38th week when I was pregnant with my son. Movement and connection to nature kept me grounded. This pregnancy, I was much more nauseous, but movement and being outside actually helped take away that nausea. I was still snowboarding until my 28th week. But then they put me on bedrest because of the low-lying placenta. This pregnancy, they told me that if I were to start bleeding, I could hemorrhage in 10 minutes. No time to get to a hospital. And I just had to accept that all I could do during that scary time was take a walk and get outside.”

The big deal about getting bigger: what were some of pregnancy’s surprises?

Stephanie: “I was so tired in the first trimester. I kept wondering: Is 7pm too early to go to bed?”

Sarah: “I thought I would really struggle with the body changes and the weight gain. Putting 25 pounds on as an athlete seems horrifying. But it wasn’t that bad. I actually have been feeling really good. I’m slow but I feel great.”

Kimmy: “I was shocked by what my body was capable of doing during pregnancy. My biggest surprise was the birth. Labor was a really big deal, and then I never dilated. Having an emergency C-section was a huge surprise.”

How about food? Did you have any cravings or changes in preferences?

Catharine: “I’m an athlete. I’m so used to putting good things into my body but in the first trimester I just wanted crackers and toast, NO vegetables at all.”

Stephanie: “Late in pregnancy, I was able to eat all foods. It was great because I didn’t get full and was able to eat so much (I love food!). The morning before I gave birth, I could not get full, so I sent my partner to get donuts. I ate all four donuts before noon…I think I sort-of knew the baby was coming after that.”

Kimmy: “I always need snacks with me while I’m pregnant. I even packed CLIF BAR® energy bars in my hospital bag.”

We wish these four athletes (well, three, because Stephanie Howe’s baby came three weeks early) all the power and positivity in the world as they close in on their due dates. And we’ll be following up with the athletes after their babies are born. We’ll learn more about what they expected life to be like versus what it’s actually like to live with a newborn, the plans and timelines for getting back into competition, and we’ll get an inside view of their new lives as moms.

Becoming a Mom as a Pro Athlete

Four incredible athletes. Four pandemic pregnancies. Pretty soon, we’ll have four new baby athletes to welcome to the family. Learn how these pro athletes make room for pregnancies and babies in their demanding lives.
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