Alysia Montano On Racing, Motherhood and Medals
Alysia Montaño - 800m Goddess, Olympian with the flower in her hair, 7x USA Champ, 3x Bronze medalist, 2x American Record holder. She's a #sisterhero. And that's what is so great about the sisterhood + running community. No matter the singlet, we cheer hard. I attempted to keep my fangirling at a minimum... hope you enjoy!
Photo: NBC Olympics
JESS: Your decision to race the USA Championships in 2014 was so inspiring and marked a moment in history for female athletes. I know you’ve talked a lot about why you made the decision to toe the line that day, but what was it like to actually race? What was the vibe? What were you thinking? Feeling?
ALYSIA: I've been in the spotlight and in high pressure situations for a very long time. I deemed this one of them, just for the simple fact that I knew there would be nay-sayers. Also, knowing what the negativity could be like... “Training during your pregnancy, what are you doing?” I chose not to focus on the negativity — I did it for women. To be that voice for maternal health and for empowerment. There is so much that people tell us that we can’t do. But we can do it. On that day, I decided not to focus on anybody else. I wanted to focus on my purpose. And that was so innate to me, because I do that in competitions on a regular basis. I just happened to have a different purpose for those two laps this time around.
J: An amazing thing: it was educational for so many people who still have that huge misconception that women should not exercise during pregnancy. What a great opportunity for you to come out and talk about this, with the USA Outdoor Championship as your platform. An 8-month pregnant athlete at a championship race - we had never seen that before!
A: Exactly. Education! That was my purpose. I remember calling Kara and asking, “okay so what’s the deal for x, y, and z?” And she says, “go off what you feel.” Simple advice! I knew this would hit the track world, but I had no idea it would go viral. If I had just reached a few people, I would have felt like I did my job. Running on that track that day was so empowering. I warmed up totally different than normal - 4 stretches and some leg swings. Just enough to get the muscles warmed up. I went to the call room and I was eating a sandwich. It feels funny to say this… but I was really trying to be a fly on the wall. Like who did I think I was? Trying to be a fly on the wall?
J: Haha! Because first of all… you’re Alysia Montaño. Second, you were 8 months pregnant. Fly on the wall — you are NOT.
A: Who’s pregnant in the freakin’ call room!? I did respect the other runners and their mission. But I do feel that in any case, with whatever you’ve set out to do, you do not have to diminish your mission because of someone else's. And then I got hungry again, so I ate my sandwich!
J: Hey, fuel the machine!
A: Exactly! So, I ate my sandwich, went out there, and I just remember that feeling of empowerment. Not just my own. Really for all of the voices that have been silenced - pregnant or not. I always drop into a mental zone when I step out onto the track, so it was such a practice to automatically go to that specific focus. Then I came out of it and thought to myself, “lap number one, Alysia, you need to run it in under two minutes, okay? Or you will get lapped.” When I came around the last turn and saw everyone standing and clapping for me, I was just so grateful. So grateful that I decided that I was going to be bold, courageous, and toe the line.
J: There’s the cultural misconception that once a women has a baby, her athletic career is over. We’ve seen that story everywhere… for years. You’ve really broken that barrier. I wouldn’t even call your career a comeback after having your daughter… you won USA’s the next year!
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
A: Yeah, I will say, that was kinda tough. I really had to work on not throwing myself too far ahead of where I was at based on the expectations people had on me: not to fail, or to fail, because I was postpartum. I’ve seen so many examples of women who have been able to go on and compete, or live a healthy and exciting lifestyle regardless of whether they decided to compete or not. I feel for Serena Williams, she says she has the intention of coming back. That’s a hard pressure for a lot of women. She hopefully can allow herself the opportunity to just start her family and not have people worry about how many Grand Slam Titles she’s going to win after this. It’s ridiculous.
Luckily for me, I do not worry about proving anything to people. It’s also a part of my personality. Once I set a goal, I am on it. My goal was to nurse my daughter for a year and work my way back into fitness and into the competition scene. Running at 6 months postpartum at Indoor Nationals was really meant to be a mental competition. I wanted to be there and I wanted to put myself in the mindset of being a champion. And then I had the opportunity to run at Drake Relays and finish 4th running 2:01 for my first outdoor 800. It put me in the pool to run the World Championship Relays where I was able to anchor Team USA to a Gold Medal at 8 months post-partum. From there, I claimed the USA Outdoors Championship title at 10 months post-partum. The Olympic year was my main focus and I was just so thankful that my head was on and I was able to feel more and more empowered every time that I ran. I think that's the point - regardless of finishing place it's the confidence and the empowerment that you build in trying.
That’s my thought for my daughter. I want her to see her mom and think wow, my mom is such a great example of empowerment and I can do whatever I set my mind to do. I can set big goals. Sometimes they’re not going to show up in the way that I want, but I am going to get up on my feet and keep going.
J: She’s so lucky! So, how excited are you guys for baby #2?!
A: Omg, way too stoked.
J: So, are you training through this pregnancy as well? Do you have plans to compete after baby #2?
A: I'm not going to go too far into plans, because that’s not how I plan any year in general. I'm just trying to stay as normal as possible. “This is my new normal” is what I like to say. I am still in the mindset of not getting too far ahead of myself. I think that does cause you to overstride and overstriding causes injury - pregnant or not. My immediate goal is to focus on my cardiovascular strength and maintaining my overall strength because I know labor is a very intense athletic activity. Probably, I’d say, the most intense one that I’ve ever been through.
We’re really excited for baby #2! With Linnea it was, okay, if I medal in 2012, we’re going to start our family. And then I ended up not medaling, but felt like it was right to keep going. It was easy for the first time to say that, and its harder for our second one. Of course I wanted to make the Olympic team, but the things that people told me that I did for them were so much better than being able to go to the Olympics and have the opportunity to medal. I felt like yeah, that was way more purposeful at this stage in my life. I was able to deem that a success and think, okay, let me not have the Olympic Trials be my last race. I’m going to keep running. So, I ended up going to the Milrose Games in February.
Lesko & Alysia 2013
Lauren & Alysia 2015
J: The last thing I want to talk about are your medal upgrades. It’s something that everyone's been talking about since earlier this year and it doesn't look like much has happened. Do you have a status on that process?
A: That’s exactly how it goes and why it’s so frustrating. That’s why we have a problem with the IAAF and the IOC in keeping those who are affected informed. There are also legal proceedings that are happening where we can’t have as much information. For instance, Savinova had 40 days to appeal after she was found guilty. Once she appeals, and she literally waited until day 39, then they begin a whole new 3 month process following that. But, I am very hopeful that I am going to have a medal soon.
It’s strange that I have a very weird amount of empathy in regards to the Russian Athletics system. Those athletes fearing for their lives. But, I am also trying to understand, why would she appeal? I understand that in their system, culture, and program… they are heroes. If you go against Russia and you say that in the athletics program, the only way you’re able to be successful is because of the drugs that they give you, it’s like you’re a traitor. I came to that understanding and recognition when I ran into Yuliya Stepanova who was the whistler blower. She realized how guarded and shielded they were from the international media. What they’re fed is what they believe. Of course it's still wrong and I want my medal, but I am trying not to go crazy about the process. Lying is lying. It is universal, I know that. But, let this process be one that is going to help Savinova become a better person and recognize the other lives that are affected aside from her own. That’s the best I can do!
J: Those moments, the podium, the bonuses — were taken from you. Nothing can change that. But, if you could have something now, what would it be? What would you do to celebrate? Could anything get even remotely close to that feeling?
A: You know, I’m not sure. It’s like what we talked about, with mostly anything… I don’t want to overstride. You’ve got to look up and smell the roses and be happy for what is in front of you. My focus in life is to really be able to enjoy the small things. And I know the greater things will be that much more exciting when they do come, but I don’t want to be only waiting for these crazy great things. People have talked about throwing me a party or having my own podium ceremony, so it’s exciting to see all of the people who want to celebrate you. Let’s make the medal happen, and then I’m down with any and all plans! Hopefully, I find out soon and we can have a ceremony postpartum so I can enjoy with some celebratory beverages. ;)
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