Aside from the more obvious advantages of becoming a parent, motherhood often bestows unexpected gifts: increased mental resilience and physical endurance are the name of the game when you’re wrangling small people. We sit down for a chat with three inspiring mothers who have taken those strengths and are running, flexing and lifting with them. By Kate Farr.
The Mum on the Run
Single mum to five-year-old Henry, and currently pregnant with her second child, PhD student Jane Richards isn’t one for taking things easy. An accomplished triathlete and multiple marathoner, Jane won the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Half Marathon in 2014, and has previously qualified for the world-renowned Ironman World Championships.
Her road to racing began early, but hasn’t always resulted in podium finishes, “I started running when I was 10. To be honest – and people never believe me when I say this – I was pretty rubbish at sport as a kid! However, I was persistent.”
This persistence has served Jane well in her marathon running, “I was so happy when, ten years ago, I ran 4.09. My personal best is now 2.53, and I hope to break 2.50 in the not-too-distant future. I never would have believed that was possible.”
She also believes that fitness can and should be a family affair, “I hope to show my children that fitness is just like brushing your teeth; you need to make time for it every day.” She continues, “Regardless of whether or not my kids become runners, I’d like fitness to be a part of their lives.”
And Jane has some practical suggestions for expectant mums wanting to continue their workouts in pregnancy, “I now wear two sports bras at a time! It’s not a sexy look, but I’d rather run than not. I’m very conscious of my body and don’t push it too hard. Oh, and I need to run near a toilet at all times, which is infuriating!”
On the subject of post-natal body image, Jane has this to say, “I think being a mother has given me greater body confidence. Even at my fittest I’m no model, but I’m proud of what my body can achieve. Not only does it have the capacity to grow and nurture a baby, but with work and discipline, it can also be a runner’s body – healthy, fit and strong.”
The Piloxing Parent
Connie Colson moved to Hong Kong from Shanghai with husband Bruce, children Simone, Zach and Max, and a lifelong love of fitness. “I’ve been active since I was a teen – I was in the school track team for long distance running, played hockey and netball, and represented my city for karate-do.” Although she had always maintained an active lifestyle, after having children she began to notice creeping weight gain and lethargy. This spurred her on to qualify as a professional fitness trainer, coaching others in a variety of group exercise programmes.
But it is in Piloxing that Connie now invests much of her focus. Alternating high-intensity boxing moves with low-impact Pilates, Piloxing improves cardiovascular health, and tones and lengthens muscles while strengthening the core. The classes are particularly suitable for mums looking to regain fitness, “it offers classes to suit your daily schedule, allowing mothers to focus on what is needed in the time that they have.” She adds, “Most mothers’ priority (after sleep!) is to lose the pregnancy weight.”
Connie’s first-hand experience of returning to the gym post-pregnancy offers comfort to mums who may feel self-conscious about their bodies, “I love my body now! I love the stretch marks that are evidence of carrying my babies. Of course I loved my pre-pregnancy body, but that was more for vanity than comfort.”
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The Fighting Fit Mama
Professional Muay Thai fighter, personal trainer and CrossFit evangelist Joey-Lee Pieterse now heads up operations at Epic MMA and CrossFit 9 Dragons, but it was the experience of having her sons – five-year-old Tayden and four-year-old Maddyx – that set her on her current fitness path. She explains, “I had my boys 11 months apart to the day; it took a huge toll on my body. I thought I would always be fit but I gained almost 30 kilos during my back-to-back pregnancies and felt awful.”
Having continued to train in Muay Thai during her first pregnancy, Joey sustained a back injury shortly after her eldest son was born, and found it much harder to maintain her fitness during her second pregnancy, “My back got worse and worse as I got bigger and I lost motivation. I hated the way I looked and the fact that I couldn’t even walk up a hill any more really made me question how I got there!”
Husband Doug was supportive, “My hubby was amazing. He never pushed me, just encouraged me, and would try to plan joint gym sessions so he could support me through my hard times.” With his encouragement, Joey travelled to Phuket to reignite her passion for fitness, “I trained twice a day at Tiger Muay Thai where I saw they had a class called CrossFit. I booked a session and was hooked!” She continues, “I couldn’t stop talking about it to my hubby, and soon after we both flew to Singapore for our CrossFit trainer certification.”
She believes that much of CrossFit’s success is down to the supportive environment, “You have a community to cheer you on. Everyone works at their own pace, helping you celebrate every small victory. The support and camaraderie helps you make friends and feel like you can achieve anything!”
Joey is keen to stress achievable targets for mothers returning to fitness post-pregnancy, “I would hate for anyone to think it’s easy to hit the gym and just undo nine months of pregnancy in a few short weeks. Each pregnancy has its own story, and getting back to the gym is something you have to be ready for. Knowing what you want to get out of it is really important in setting yourself realistic goals.”
And these days, her own aims are just as realistic, “My goals have changed to align with where I want to eventually be as an athlete. I no longer just want to be skinny; I want to be able to lift heavy things and work out without feeling like I can’t do it. I want to inspire and motivate other people.”