Elana Meyers Taylor writes her first sport blog about being a mother and an elite bobsleigh athlete for Olympics.com.
In the first in a series of candid sport blogs for Olympics.com, the American outlines the challenges of staying ‘relevant’, her challenging but rewarding pregnancy, and why balancing her baby with her bobsleigh career may be her greatest achievement yet.
When I was first approached about writing this blog I asked, “How real do you want me to keep it?” The response: ‘As real as you’re comfortable with’.
So, here goes...We’re currently in Innsbruck, Austria, and by ‘we’ I mean the entire World Cup bobsleigh circuit and my family: my husband Nic, and my son Nico. My husband is on the men’s team and is working hard to compete for an Olympic spot as a brakemen.
We just finished our first World Cup race and for me there were mixed results. I took a win in the new Olympic discipline of monobob, but I placed seventh in the two-person competition. It wasn’t a great day of driving for me.
This World Cup season is about qualifying for the Games. We get eight races to earn points in order to qualify and the first two rounds of the tour take place in Innsbruck, Austria. There’s still time to finesse and be back on top. Back in 2019, I felt the distance from this type of competition entirely. And it was hard.
I did not enjoy my pregnancy. For the most part, it was how you would expect with things like morning sickness. One day I could not get enough cranberry sauce, etc.
I felt like I was finally at a point of my athletic career where I could take pregnancy on. After winning three Olympic medals, my husband, Nic, and I decided to start trying to add to our family. When we found out, our reaction was pure joy.
I also had questions. What does this mean for bobsleigh? What about health insurance? How secure is my income?
As a USA bobsleigh athlete, we get our health insurance through the USOPC (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee). We also receive a small monthly stipend based on our rank. Plus, there’s income through sponsorships and prize money.
After the Olympics in 2018, sponsorships went through a period of renewals. We had been relying on prize money, stipends, and, of course, doing other work. When I became pregnant, I was concerned that I would lose all of this.
One of the most important needs of a pregnant woman is health insurance, and it was at risk. Could I hide my pregnancy long enough? Maybe I could buy into the insurance programme to try to cover me through the pregnancy?
Fortunately, in the midst of all the stress, the USOPC announced a maternity policy that would allow me to keep my health insurance and my stipend. A giant weight was lifted off my shoulders and I then felt confident enough to tell the world of our joy.
I tried to stay relevant. I competed in the US push championships while pregnant, complete with morning sickness and nausea, to make sure everyone knew that I fully intended on competing again.
I volunteered to help the US team in coaching or whatever they needed me to do, just to be around. But when there wasn’t anything for me, I reached out to the bobsleigh federation (IBSF).
Fortunately, one of the people in charge of coaching developing nations is Nicola Minichiello, a former bobsleigh Olympian and mother of two small twins who travel with her. I think she understood how I was feeling and what I was trying to achieve, and she hired me to coach the Youth Olympics athletes and help with the developing teams.
Sitting in curves every day with a 20+ week pregnant belly was not the most comfortable thing, but it made me feel like I was still relevant, like I still belonged.
When the World Cup came to Lake Placid, New York, I had no more responsibilities as the Youth Olympic Games athletes had gone. One of the broadcast commentators, John Morgan, took pity on me after seeing how much I yearned to take part and invited me into the booth. Although I had a blast doing it, it was clear that the sport was moving on without me. I was no longer relevant.
I was doing everything I could to grow a tiny, healthy human, but I wanted also to be with my sporting family. Sure, some of my teammates had reached out while I was pregnant, but most were so focused on the season. Since I wasn’t there, it was radio silence. I think this was the hardest part, realising that there are limitations to sport. Even though it may seem like a family at times, it’s not. I was literally growing my family and that was my new reality and my new focus.
I tried to post my training to Instagram to make sure everyone knew I was serious about returning, but no one really knows what type of influence that has. I just felt lost without bobsleigh during my pregnancy - the world I had known for so long had just vanished and I knew it would never be the same. And it hasn’t been since.
I’m back to bobsleigh, but with a whole new perspective. Now, I have a literal family who travels with me everywhere. My days are filled with breastfeeding, diaper changes, playtime, and, of course, sliding.
I’m preparing for the Beijing 2022 Olympics now with a different focus, not to try to stay relevant to a sport that is ever changing and will move on once I’m gone, but to show my son that despite whatever obstacles he faces, he can still go after his dreams.
And even if he falls, the pursuit of them is all the worth it. He is my dream, and competing in bobsleigh while being his mother may be my greatest achievement.
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