Childbirth could be a positive for Jessica Ennis-Hill rather than mean the beginning of the end of her career, writes Cameron Tucker
This is the winning article from those submitted by junior writers as part of a competition offering budding young journalists the chance to get their work in print. We selected our favourite five, with the overall winner also receiving a 12-month subscription to Athletics Weekly magazine.
Every athlete has a few bumps during their career. Few, however, will have a bump like Jessica Ennis-Hill. “Back in the gym … building back into training,” Ennis-Hill wrote on Instagram a short while ago. It is not injury which has side-lined the poster-girl of the 2012 Games since January. Instead, it has been pregnancy which has kept the heptathlete out of competition.
The birth of Reggie Ennis-Hill was met with a torrent of good-wishes and congratulations on social media. Yet, there was a degree of uncertainty. Not regarding the pregnancy, fortunately, but instead with its aftermath. With the demands of motherhood, would Ennis-Hill ever compete again? And if she did, could she rekindle her golden streak?
As in any workplace, having a baby has come to be viewed as something of a taboo. Maternity leave and child-rearing are the curses of career advancement.
This sentiment is no different in athletics.
The physical and mental changes undergone through pregnancy are seen as a hindrance to the women of track and field. With a ballooning stomach, morning sickness and raging hormones, it is easy to see why having kids can be seen as one massive hurdle.
Ennis-Hill’s physio, Alison Rose, says such a hurdle actually has several benefits. “There is an increase in laxity which means you become more flexible, especially in your hips and ankles,” she says. “If you had tight feet before pregnancy, these are loosened up.” According to Rose, having a child alters the very make-up of an athlete’s physiology. She adds: “There are changes to the blood profile so when an athlete comes back they will be able to perform better and for longer.”
Rose, one of the directors at Coach House Sports Physiotherapy Clinic in Leeds, believes athletes should not worry about returning to the sport. “It’s just managing the whole process from the minute you get pregnant,” she says.
“You need to have a platform to work oﬀ once you’ve given birth. You need to make sure you get all your core muscles back.” Pilates-style exercises and pelvic floor work are ideal in achieving this, states Rose.
For Rose, it is athletes who push themselves too hard throughout pregnancy who are the ones who struggle. “You must stick to a plan,” she stresses. “Don’t run before you can walk.” She points out this is exactly what is being done with Ennis-Hill and Rio is very much within the reigning champion’s reach.
And yet, having kids is still seen as the career death knell. After competing in the 2014 USATF Championships eight months into her pregnancy, middle-distance runner Alysia Montano told the media there is definitely a stigma surrounding professional athletes-cum-mothers.
“People sometimes act like it’s a nine-month sentence,” she says.
There is no doubt pregnancy drastically changes a female athlete, regardless of age or athletic discipline. As the likes of Paula Radcliffe, Jo Pavey and (more than likely) Ennis-Hill have demonstrated, it is possible to return to the sport and train and compete at the highest level. For the woman tasked with getting Ennis-Hill back to such a level, there is no reason why a little tyke should push her off the track.
» Cameron Tucker, 21, used to compete for his school and region over middle and long distances in Hong Kong. He’s currently studying for a masters degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Sheffield