MMany assume that motherhood affects athletic performance. are you a runner Your fastest days are behind you. A deadlift PR? Better not try. All those outdoor adventures you’ve always dreamed of? Well, you should have checked them off your wish list before your kids came along.
The idea that your athletic endeavors are over the moment you give birth or start responding to “mommy” couldn’t be further from the truth.
For both professional athletes and everyday athletes, becoming a mom actually feels like traveling across the country with your four-year-old so he can watch the race, skipping his post-workout nap to spend time with family, or thousands of Meters Climb Climb a cliff to teach your kids to pursue their goals no matter what. That, my friends, is what it means when you hear the term “mother’s strength.”
Elisabeth Akinwale, CrossFit athlete
Elisabeth Akinwale is a big deal in the CrossFit community. Her career highlights include multiple weightlifting records, including a 425-pound deadlift and a 240-pound jab. But if it weren’t for the birth of her son Asa, she might never have pursued a career in the gym.
“When my son was three years old, I experienced a big change in my life. I was recently divorced, adjusting to co-parenting and working an unfulfilling career,” she tells Well+Good. “I noticed that my son began to perceive work as a burden and an unpleasant necessity of life – because that was the case for me at the time.”
Akinwale didn’t want Asa to grow up thinking work was a dreaded chore, so she decided to turn her passion, CrossFit, into a career and become a professional CrossFit athlete and health and fitness instructor. “This change was a big risk, especially as a new single parent, but the risk allowed me to fully live my values and show them to my son,” she says. The CrossFit legend is also now the founder of 13th Flow, an online exercise program that brings functional fitness training to an inclusive community.
Would you like to train like akin whales? Try this 10 minute full body session she created for Well+Good:
Asa, now 16, has watched his mother lift heavy objects and transform the lives of her customers. “He grew up with the experience that I’m bold and strong in my decisions, a leader in my work, and also have the flexibility to prioritize family time,” she says. “My mother’s strength has helped us have a strong relationship, and I can speak honestly and from real experience with my teenager about personal choice and taking responsibility for building the life I desire.”
Alison Feller, presenter of Ali on the run podcast
If you know the name Ali Feller, you probably already know that the podcast host has a disarmingly cute daughter named Annie. When Well+Good met Feller in late April, she was en route to Eugene, Oregon to run her first marathon since giving birth in October 2018.
According to Feller, a mother’s strength is difficult to describe but easy to recognize. “When you become a mother, your whole world changes, no matter how that happens for you,” she says. “From this moment on, you never are not A mother. Even if you’re not physically with your child for minutes, hours, or days, you’re always a mom, and I know that plays into almost every decision I make,” she says.
She sees the power of mothers in the athletes and mothers she interviews for her podcast, including pro runners Keira D’Amato, Sara Hall, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Sara Vaughn and Edna Kiplagat, whom she describes as “women who are at their highest.” Compete at a high level and chase after your Olympic victory,” describes Traume with her children by her side.”
“I think that’s it: I think a mother’s strength is to love her child[ren] with every fiber of your being and stand up for them – whatever that may look like to you – without sacrificing your own hopes, dreams and goals. This is something I strive for every day. Do I often fail? You bet. Do I intend to give up soon? Hell no,” says Feller.
She recalls a moment last summer when she was interviewing 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden while Annie was backstage watching “Paw Patrol.” “It was a total ‘that’s it – that’s the dream’ moment for me,” says Feller.
Going forward, Feller plans to continue pursuing dreams with her daughter by her side, co-piloting Annie’s future ventures. On April 30, she set a personal record at the Eugene Marathon, completing the distance ten minutes faster than ever before. But before that, during our interview, she reflected on how different her life was from the last time she was preparing for run 26.2. “[This time], I woke up at 4am to do my training runs so I could be home and shower before Annie woke up. I’ve made sure I’m fully committed to my training but never too tired to play with her,” Feller said.
Looking ahead to the race, she told us, “If at some point the race inevitably gets tough, I’ll run to her. Is it easy to travel across the country and run 26.2 miles with a 4 year old in tow? No way. But when she’s at the finish line, I know I’ll make it and no matter how the race goes for me, I have that hug ready. As a mom, my relationship with running and my body has changed in such a drastic way. All the best.”
Aubrey Runyon, professional rock climber, mountain guide and transgender rights advocate
Professional rock climber Aubrey Runyon says being a strong role model of her parents’ strength is one of the main reasons she spends time outdoors. “I would not say that [parenting] gives me a desire to further a specific goal, but I just have an overriding desire to leave a legacy for my children. I want them to see that there is this big, huge world and that we have to move our bodies through this beautiful earth that we have,” she says. “I’ve always hoped that they would take away from my experiences a sense of exploration, a sense of conquering fears and conquering levels of comfort, that was a big thing in my life.”
Earlier this year, Runyon achieved an important goal in this “big, huge” world when she completed 10,000 climbs (or climbs that require multiple anchor and belay points). This goal was chosen at random, and Runyon says there’s a lesson for her children in it, too. “I just love the idea of setting big, stupid goals that don’t really matter. And then just go and do the thing just to do it,” she says. “It doesn’t have to mean more. You don’t have to do things for any reason other than to have fun.”
In 2020, Runyon shared a post on Instagram about a decision that would change her life forever: “This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many who know me personally, but I’m transgender. I didn’t shy away from it, but I didn’t say it outright either.” By this point, Runyon had already begun gender mentoring to begin her transition. “I’m better and happier than ever,” she wrote.
While there’s no denying that Runyon has her own personal strength, she tells me that being called a mother doesn’t really matter to her at home. She doesn’t have to call her children Avery, eight, and Zoe, five, “mother.” “When my wife and I finally decided to talk to my kids about it [my transition], I basically just said: I want you to call me what you like to call me. So if you wanna call me mom, call me mom. If you want to call me ‘Dad’, call me ‘Dad,'” says Runyon.
“They still call me ‘daddy’ — and that’s only because my older daughter said, ‘I want to call you daddy.’ “I always called you daddy.” That’s perfectly fine. I feel like I deserve this title and I’m proud of it. And then there are other occasions when they randomly call me “mom,” and that’s fine. I’m just happy to be a parent,” says Runyon.
Erica Stanley-Dottin, sub-3 hour marathon runner
When Erica Stanley-Dottin isn’t running (she’s one of only 24 black American women to have completed a sub-three-hour marathon) or serving as a community manager at Tracksmith New York, she’s a mother to two children: Jett, 9, and Austin (12). After running her first 26.2 run in 2008, Stanley-Dottin took a nine-year hiatus to have children. “Then I was on maternity leave. When I came back to the marathon in 2017, I had two young children and was just getting out,” she says.
Now that she’s racing and breaking records again, Stanley-Dottin says two kinds of maternal strength — physical and mental — got her through ten postpartum marathons, and she just keeps accelerating. (Remember the race that lasted less than three hours?) “For me, physical strength means my body goes through pregnancy and recovers from pregnancy,” she says. “And that’s one thing. Then I think about what it takes mentally as we all have to juggle so much. Making room to train for a marathon is basically a different task.” She adds that she takes pride in instilling in her children the discipline, organization and time management required of professional athletes.
However, when Stanley-Dottin hits the track, streets and trails, she believes it’s really about taking a moment for yourself and letting go of the burden of parenthood. “I’m intense. i train hard I travel to my races. I try to manifest myself every time. It’s the only thing I can be intense about for myself, not for anyone else,” she says.
Once she kicks off her shoes and is back home with her kids (there are no post-run naps in the Stanley Dottin household!), she says she really loves sharing her training and racing victories with her kids . You come to her races and see her do the day-to-day work required of top athletes. “My coach once told me, ‘You come home and your kids see you flop onto the couch after a 20-mile run, and you’re dead for the rest of the day.’ That’s crazy. Will that stick with you?’ So I think that’s how it is. I hope they see the motivation that comes with training hard for something,” says Stanley-Dottin.
Currently, Austin and Jett are mostly interested in basketball – but who knows what the future holds?
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