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Alysia Montano could have gone down in track and field history as “that runner from the epic Olympic trials wipe-out” after she lost her chance to compete in Rio last summer because of a freak mid-race collision with another racer. But that’s not her thing.
After a mega public fall like that, a retreat from the world stage or a semi-graceful retirement would appeal to a lot of runners (and, well, humans). But for Montano, leaving the sport she loves wasn’t an option. Last Thursday she donned a Wonder Woman sports bra to compete in the 800-meter race at the US Nationals. It was her second time running the race while pregnant. Montano, who is currently five months along, came in last — and it was a huge win for women.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that “physical activity during pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary.” Still, women are too often judged for what they do with their own bodies before, during, and after pregnancy.
A pregnant woman having a cup of coffee can find herself being lectured by a stranger. A woman having a hard time conceiving might be confronted with a laundry list of unsolicited advice about what she’s doing “wrong.” And don’t even get us started on the whole breastfeeding thing.
What Montano did was both brave and undeniably radical precisely because of those kinds of societal pressures. Instead of conforming to the idea that a pregnant woman embodies the fragility of a Fabergé egg, she proved the opposite to be true: Pregnant women’s bodies are strong bodies. Gal Gadot — Wonder Woman herself — filmed scenes from her groundbreaking superhero movie while in her second trimester.
It was Gadot that inspired Montano to run her race: “When I found out she filmed half the movie five months pregnant, I said, ‘I for sure am signing up for USA nationals,’” says Montano. “There is something about coming out to any venue not really expecting to win but going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. It is the most beautiful part about me being a track and field athlete with the platform I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative for people who don’t have a safe platform or voice that I do.”
So what do the medical experts have to say on the subject? We asked Toronto family doctor and avid runner Carrie Schram, whose practice is focused on women’s and public health, for her views on the subject. “As a mom, a doctor, and a runner, I think she is a fantastic role model for women. Exercising in pregnancy is healthy for mom and baby, reducing the risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and of having a really big baby.”
“With my daughter,” says Schram, “I ran until I was six months pregnant and then biked after that. I also ran a half-marathon when my daughter was nine months old. I think staying fit helped me cope with some of the discomforts of pregnancy and regain energy more quickly after delivery. I also think it’s great that my daughter sees her mother as an athlete — someone who loves her tremendously but who also has her own interests and who takes time for herself to stay healthy.”
Neither Schram nor Montano think every last pregnant woman should morph into a pre-natal super-athlete — for both of them, it’s about choice and moderation. “This isn’t to pressure women to run during pregnancy,” says Montano, “that’s not the point at all. We’re just different and that’s the point.”
“Women should talk to their own doctor about the safety of exercising in pregnancy,” advises Schram. “Some women do have high-risk pregnancies where exercise isn’t safe. But for the majority of women with low-risk pregnancies, continuing exercise you did before getting pregnant is safe and encouraged with just some adjustments to intensity. For women who aren’t active and get pregnant,” she adds, “it’s a good idea to start low-intensity exercise, such as walking and yoga, to get these same benefits.”
Did you continue exercising while you were pregnant? Tell us about it @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty + Marvel)