With 100 days to the Olympics, new mom Priscilla Lopes-Schliep eyes the podium
By Brianne Hogan
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep celebrates her silver medal at the 2009 World Championships
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep’s second-place finish at an invitational race in Sherbrooke, Que., this past February easily could have been counted as just another routine achievement for the 29-year-old hurdling star. But running 8.33 seconds in a 60-metre hurdles final a mere five months after giving birth to her first child made the race nothing short of inspiring. The results were clear: Lopes-Schliep was back and determined to be a threat at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
“People were like, ‘You’re crazy’ for wanting to race so soon [after the birth],” Lopes-Schliep says. “But I felt good, and the sports doctors said everything was great. I keep open communication with everyone, including my body. You have to have good communication with your body and listen to it. Your body gives you signs.”
Though she had always loved sports while growing up in Toronto (her family would later move to Whitby before she started high school), beating the local neighbourhood boys in races as a child was one of the first signs Lopes-Schliep’s body gave her that racing was what she was meant to do.
“I always loved racing the boys in my neighbourhood,” she says. “It got to the point where boys, and then later some girls, would come to challenge me. I loved beating the boys.”
That natural competitive streak is what makes the sport of hurdling such a perfect fit for Lopes-Schliep, whose quest for success garnered her a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, in addition to a silver medal at the 2009 World Championships in Germany, which was followed by a season in which she was ranked number one in the world. Then Lopes-Schliep got the news that she was having a baby.
“I had lost an ovary to a cyst several years ago, so when it came up that I was pregnant, it was like ‘This is awesome,’” she says, adding that her coach and agent were “excited” about the news even if they momentarily questioned her future as a world-class hurdler. “I’m a determined individual, and I knew I was coming back. [My agent and coach] were like, ‘Are you sure? You don’t want to retire?’ and I told them: ‘No way.’”
Given her intense passion for the sport and innate tenacity, nine months of sitting on the sidelines was difficult for Lopes-Schliep. “I was excited to see my teammates make the World Championships, but I so wanted to be there and run. But it definitely gave me more drive and got the fire inside going: ‘I want to go, too.’”
Lopes-Schliep continued with her workouts while pregnant, which alternated between moderate sessions at the track and pool. For such an accomplished athlete, exercising while pregnant was “easy, but I was pretty winded, too. It’s interesting to know that a little person takes your energy and nutrition from you.”
The race in Sherbrooke was her first since becoming a mom and, according to Lopes-Schliep, she is making progress every week.
“My coach is pleased. I’m pleased. I’m pushing, but I’m not pushing too hard because it’s been six months since I had the baby. But I’m feeling great. All the hard work I’m putting in is turning around. I’m pleased with the progression. I’m ahead of schedule.”
Her motivation may have always been stronger than most, but now Lopes-Schliep is pushing herself for a reason other than her personal best.
“I’m dong it for all of the moms out there,” she says. “Being a mom isn’t an easy thing, and I just want to be a good role model for the other moms out there watching.”
Lopes-Schliep admits that it’s hard balancing being a mom and being a competitive athlete.
“It’s not easy. There are times I have to go to track meets and she’s home with daddy or with my mom. I don’t like being away from my little pumpkin.”
But Lopes-Schliep remains optimistic. “I know she’ll look back and think what a good role model I was for her and for the other moms out there. It has its challenges, but it has its rewards.”
As for her advice for other busy moms who are striving to maintain some balance in their lives? “You definitely have to make sure everything’s okay with the baby and that they’re happy but to also have some ‘you time.’ Go for a walk, get your nails done. Even if someone comes over and helps you out, take a nice hot shower. It’s so easy to get caught up with being a mommy: breastfeeding, making the food. But you need to keep some sanity and peace. When mommy’s happy, everyone is happy.”
More Toronto medal contenders