Count six of them on Team USA -- and then there's the pregnant Canadian curler with the sizable baby bump ....
Ronda Kaysen: If you think it's hard making it to the Olympics, trying making to the Olympics with a kid. Having babies and winning gold medals don't exactly go hand in hand, which might explain why out of the 93 women on the United States Olympic Team, only six of them have kids. And of those six, only one -- hockey darling Jenny Potter -- is poised to take home a medal.
"Pregnancy sets [athletes] back," says Dr. Joan Steidinger, a sports psychologist and author of the upcoming book "Blood, Sweat and Cheers: The New Female Athlete." "They have to work extra hard to come back and to get in elite-level condition. I think [motherhood] is a real hurdle for elite and average athletes."
Having kids and being an elite athlete is hard for guys, too -- but it's harder for women. After all, there are twice as many Olympic dads (seventeen) as there are moms. The biggest struggle? You guessed it: balancing motherhood with training.
"The hardest thing is that I constantly want to be providing for my family," Sarah Schleper, an alpine skier and mom of 13-month-old Lasse, told NBCOlympics.com. "I want to be cooking and doing the things that a mom would do, like laundry -- you know, you have to do a baby's laundry all the time! Balancing all that stuff and getting in my training is one of the biggest challenges."
For some, such as skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, motherhood ultimately trumps competition. Pikus-Pace has decided to end her career (which consists of careening down a sheet of ice on her stomach at speeds of around 80 miles an hour). After the games, she will go home to raise her young daughter -- and have more kids.
"I think the biggest challenge with it is just leaving obviously for months at a time and not having my daughter with me and trying to go out there and focus 100 percent on my competitions and then knowing she is back at home," Pikus-Pace told NBC. "But it's been really rewarding, and I wouldn't have it any other way .... She's the best thing that has ever happened to me."
A freak accident kept Pikus-Pace out of the Torino games, so Vancouver will be her first and last trip to the Olympics.
Babies don't always spell retirement. Hockey champ Potter has two kids and three Olympic medals on her mantel. Since 2001 -- when her daughter, Madison, was born -- Potter's team has taken home two Olympic medals. Of the eight World Cup medals her team has won, six came after Potter was a mom. In 2007 -- just three months after her son, Cullen, was born -- Potter helped lead her team to a silver medal in the world championships. She and her teammates will likely face off against Canada for the gold this year.
Which brings us to the question of pregnancy. Pregnant Canadian curler Kristie Moore has made headlines with her prominent baby bump, mainly because it's so unusual to see a pregnant woman competing. She's the first visibly pregnant woman to compete in the Olympics in 90 years -- and one of only three in the entire history of the games.
One of the first things a woman is told when she's pregnant is to lay off the strenuous exercise. Keep the heart rate below 140, right? But talk to an elite athlete, and she'll tell you stories of skiing in her third trimester. Alpine skier Schleper has competed in four Olympic games and skied until she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her son. Forty days after he was born (in January 2008), she was back on the slopes and training for Vancouver. And hockey player Potter competed until she was five months pregnant with her son.
"In every game, you can always be sure that somebody is going through a pregnancy, just went through one or plans to get pregnant after the games are done," says Dr. Scott Weiss, a physical therapist who's on the staff of the U.S. Olympic Committee and was a member of the sports-medicine team at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
New research disproves the old standard that women should lounge around while pregnant, and instead says that a woman who's in good physical condition before she's pregnant can continue her normal athletic activities, at least through the first trimester. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has revised its recommendation that pregnant women keep their heart rates below 140. It now recommends that pregnant women exercise for 30 minutes a day.
There's some evidence that pregnancy actually aids performance, Weiss adds. After all, it increases blood flow, flexibility and oxygen flow.
"I think there is a standard still in this country that women in pregnancy are fragile and delicate when in fact they're not," says Steidinger.
In some corners, motherhood is the norm. While the Canadian curling team has a baby bump along for the ride, the U.S. curling team is practically a traveling band of mommies. Of the five members, three are moms. All of them hail from "curling families," and the coach is the father of one of the players. Team member Tracy Sachtjen is not just the mom of two teenagers, she holds another honor: At 40, she's the oldest Olympian in this year's games.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|