NEW YORK — Training for the Olympics is hard work, but doing it while getting into shape after giving birth, then juggling little kids, is good as gold.
In the lead-up to the Rio de Janeiro Games starting Aug. 5, and Sept. 7 for the Paralympics, we asked three Team USA hopefuls who also happen to be moms how they’re doing it all:
She was the first female soldier in U.S. history to lose a limb in active combat. Just three weeks after deploying to Baghdad in 2004, a blast from a roadside bomb struck her Humvee, leaving her without her left leg above the knee.
Since, Stockwell has triumphed as a competitive athlete and motivational speaker. She first went to the Paralympics in 2008, competing in three swimming events and carrying the American flag during the closing ceremony.
After Beijing, she turned to the paratriathlon, a combination of swimming, cycling and running, and is a three-time world champion. She’ll compete again in Rio after the sport was recognized as a Paralympic event for the first time.
Stockwell, 36, calls her 14-month-old son, Dallas Patrick, among her greatest accomplishments.
“Everything I do, I do for him,” she said. “Every time I’m training or doing anything, he’s always the first one I’m thinking about.”
Getting back into shape after giving birth in November 2014 wasn’t easy, nor was her pregnancy. Her leg swelled while pregnant and she wasn’t able to wear the special prosthetic she uses to run and bike.
“I ended up having a C-section. Training was very slow at the start. I wondered if I’d ever get to be as fast as I was,” Stockwell said from Chicago, where she lives with Dallas and husband Brian Tolsma. “It was almost harder to get back into competitive shape after having my son than it was to learn to walk after I lost my leg.”
Gearing up for Rio has meant time away from the family, including a trip to Australia just three months after Dallas was born.
“It’s a lot of time away from him, a lot of sacrifice that my husband and son make,” Stockwell said. “I just really want it to all pay off in the end.”
She has two Olympic gold medals already as a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team. And unbeknown to this 2008 WNBA top draft pick who plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker competed in Beijing while pregnant.
Her pregnancy was a breeze, she said from Los Angeles, and her 6-year-old, Lailaa Nicole Williams, is a world-class traveler.
Lailaa joined Mom at the London games and watched as she helped Team USA to her second gold medal. The first-grader would be there in Rio as well if Olympic trip No. 3 materializes.
“When I was 23, I had her. I had just finished my first year in the WNBA and I trained from the very moment I found out I was pregnant, up until two days before I delivered her,” said Parker, now 29.
“Then I started working out two weeks after I had her, so I was psycho, trying to get back on the court,” she laughed. “I was young and dumb. She was a super easy pregnancy. I’m scared to have another one because I know for a fact it wouldn’t be that easy.”
Parker’s husband, former NBA player Sheldon Williams, picks up the slack at home while mom competes and trains. As for Lailaa, she’s been going to games since she was 6 weeks old and handles hours-long plane flights like a pro. Dad also used to play in China and mom in Russia during the off season.
“She’s just like, whatever, where are we going now? I don’t think she really, truly remembers London, when she came down on the court after we won, but this time she should,” Parker said.
Long and lean, Lailaa’s not particularly interested in her parents’ chosen sport.
“She’s more into dancing and ballet,” Parker said. “But she’s very athletic. We do go out and shoot hoops but by no means am I going to push her into doing basketball. I’m kind of just letting her find her passion.”
Some who follow women’s track know her as the Flyer Flower, for the bit of colorful flora she tucks in her hair when competing. Others may remember 2014, when she decided to take advantage of her qualifying standard in the 800 meter and enter the outdoor U.S. championships while 34 weeks pregnant.
The idea: To just have some fun while advocating for women to get off the couch and move around during pregnancy. The goal: Not to get lapped during the two-lap race.
Montano was successful on both counts and has since proudly brought her 20-month-old daughter, Linnea Dori, to practices and events, tucking flowers into her little girl’s hair as well while chatting with the media.
“She doesn’t get what I do but she knows Mama’s running and loves it,” said Montano, who’s training to qualify in the 800 meter in Rio. “I have so many clips of her cheering me on. She screams, ‘Go Mama, go Mama!’ every time I run. She does warm-ups with me and copies my movements.”
In terms of her sport, Linnea offers Mom endless inspiration.
“I really feel like she brought me back to life in my career. She’s given me a greater purpose beyond running two laps around the track,” said Montano, who lives in Berkeley, California, with Linnea and husband Louis Montano.
Montano claimed her first indoor championship in the 600 meter just six months after giving birth last year. By that March, she was anchoring the 4-by-800 meter relay team during worlds, helping the team to an American record with the fastest split of the competition with a time of 1:58.90.
If she qualifies for Rio, Linnea will most likely be along for the ride. Mom would compete around the time of her second birthday in August.
And, yes, she’ll have a flower in her hair and high hopes of not only winning but showing her child the way.
“I want her to come into her own and just be her own person, but at the same time I recognize that I am her mother,” Montano said. “I want her to be able to look up to me and say, ‘My mom is so strong. I want to be strong like my mom.’”