Sometimes the only way to see clearly is to take your glasses off. I was breathing hard, steaming up my glasses, and trying to keep up with my friend Diana. She was into the visible edge of the fog. The road was flanked by patches of snow in the trees.

I normally would just let her go, but I wanted to hear what she had to say on a question that’s been haunting me recently: how do you reconcile being an athlete and a mom?

(The Mom)

We are both training for the Three Capes 300k brevet in April. It is dauntingly hilly, and a little farther than either of us has ridden in a day. She invited me to do the ride in celebration of being a mom for a year and having some of my independence back.

We both have limited time to train. She has a 4 year old and a dissertation she’s working on. I’ve got a baby and a business. We’ve both got to eat, sleep, love our families, and compost. So the real question, the question that is at the heart of the first has less to do with training than this: how do you reconcile your identity as an athlete with being a mom?

(The Athlete)

I’m reluctant to go all women’s studies and “unpack the freighted baggage of our hyphenated identities,” but damn – the problem of my limited time has forced me into looking at “athlete” and “mom” as being on different sides of a hyphen. What does it look like for me to be a “mom-athlete”?

I’ve posed the question to the internet and received encouragement, good advice, and unanimous support of the 5:00AM workout. But on mornings when I have been awake since 3:55AM with a crying baby, the much-vaunted wonders of the 5:00AM workout seem suspect. Falling short of my own intentions, repeatedly, makes me feel a little bitter. Trying so hard is only adds to my frustration to my exhaustion. Too often, other people’s solutions only make me feel inadequate.

What I’ve needed is a role model. And for that, I am chasing down Diana.

“I was always an off-the-couch sort of person before kids. Smoke a cigarette and then go climb something hard.” She said she was just thinking out loud about this because she’d never really given it much thought. But she did think that after having kids, she became a bit more focused about the things that she enjoyed doing.

“You know, I want to be the old woman that surprises people. Like ‘whoa! I didn’t think she could do that’” said Diana. At the time, I protested that she already surprises/scares people with her abilities, but that she was going to have to wait a few decades for the old lady part.

That really got me thinking. On the one hand it’s as simple as doing the best with what you’ve got. And yet it is decidedly different than the dreaded “pretty good for a new mom” athleticism that makes me wince.

I see Diana’s formidable strength as the result of the kind of life that she wants to be living. She bikes everywhere and every day. She bikes her four-year-old to preschool. She rides to Portland State University. She bikes to her cyclocross races. She even bikes her older daughter to high school in the family cargo bike. When she’s riding alone, her relative lightness ignites her prey drive and makes powering up hills even more rewarding.

No coach would call this ideal training for a cyclocross season or a challenging 300k. Coaches work in units like watts and bpms. They don’t have tools to measure the merits of racing across town to make it to a kid’s birthday party, or the hauling of salvaged lumber by cargo bike to build the backyard bikeshed. So much the poorer, then, is the conventional view of the whole athlete.

I’ve have been trying to see myself as an athlete against a background that is composed of everything else. Pure sport, and then the laundry. But now I see that if I can integrate hard work, love and play, I can view myself as an athlete who’s training continuously blurs the edges of training and not-training. I won’t stay in the lines. I’ll chase Diana to the top of Skyline, and race home to give my babe a breathless, rain-soaked smootch on the cheek.

From → Homework


  1. melinda

    There are a lot of cultural narratives about what a mom is supposed to be and what an athlete is supposed to be. In fact, even though I’m posting this to encourage you to go on with your bad self, the fact remains that I’m still not sure, in my bones, whether I’m an athlete at all myself. But this is really about everyone who bumps up against normative ideas of what we’re supposed to be about. We’ve create a lot of angles and lenses to look at ourselves through and form identities with (and a lot of them were created in order to try to sell us stuff), and they’re all tiny lies, because they can’t show our whole selves.

    Be kind to yourself. Make your own story.

    • Natalie

      Melinda, I just watched the TED Talk you linked to. It was such a wonderful articulation of the power of stories. I will be thinking about our responsibility to consume, retell, and produce the stories that are honest and particular for a good long time I imagine. Thanks for sharing that link and your thoughts!

  2. Jenni

    Every day your darling bb will become more and more independent and life will continue to the balance you seek. I continue to struggle and my kid’s 9 next week. But you will get there, entirely and wholly. Enjoy these days, they’re gone faster than you’ll know.

  3. Pingback: Inspirate me. Again. | briztreadley

  4. Lindsay

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I am a mom and have no idea if I am an athlete but I do know what it’s like to try and find time “for it all”. It’s so easy to compare and so hard to know if we are doing the best for our kids, our families, our planet or ourselves. I have been a mom for 5.5 (my son told me today) years now and still every day I struggle with priorities, sleep, being on time and seeing my path (just to name a few). Still, I also know that I am a better cyclist, yogi, runner, friend, team player and so on and so on in those five years.
    There is no right or wrong here, there is no “athlete” or “mom” or “not good enough to be any of those things”. There just is enjoying every moment, every time your little one smiles or snuggles. Or every time you can step away for a break, hop on your bike and ride for miles. Sometimes the smiles are few and the miles are short. Other times it’s all smiles and you catch a tail wind and can ride for hours. And of course, sometimes it’s some kind of a mixed up mess. No matter which way, it can make up an amazing journey. So don’t spend time sweating on titles, just do what that big heart desires. It seems to me, it’s already done so many great things.
    And find cool people like yourself to help you stay inspired when you need and extra push, like when I read this post today.

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