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Indian athletes talk about making a comeback post giving birth

As US tennis star Serena Williams claims she will be back on court in six months, post giving birth to a baby girl, we speak to Indian athletes about their trials, tribulations and triumphs of their return journey

Serena Williams
Serena Williams

Former World No. 1 tennis player Serena Williams announced that she would come back to the sport within six months of giving birth to a baby girl, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. Serena has timed her comeback for the Australian Open in January 2018.

While the Grand Slam is a few months away, the ace's back-to-court pronouncement, throws the spotlight on Indian athletes who came back to sport, post giving birth.

Former World No. 1 shooter Anjali Bhagwat from Pune recalls, "I got married when I was 31. I got my baby when I was 41. I couldn't practice during pregnancy. My son Aradhya was born in June 2010."

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr
Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr

Anjali was back in the shooting range, in a few months post that, winning in the Nationals in November the same year. She says, "As an athlete, I ate sensibly during pregnancy too. I didn't consume food rich in fat like ghee and laddoos etc. to the chagrin of my mom and mother-in-law! It was salads and sprouts for me," said the Olympian.

Anjali adds, "Playing at the highest level, you always have the urge to come back and compete. Mine was very smooth transition. I had to work a little harder to reach the level I was shooting before, but that's normal."

Helen Mary with son L Gavin Rao
Helen Mary with son L Gavin Rao

Training distractions
Anjali says motherhood makes one, more responsible. "The only guilt you always have is that one cannot dedicate complete attention to your child. But my family is such a tremendous support." She adds, "I have seen cases where shooters used to bring their child along during practice and competition. They could not focus on training. My son was just six months and I went to the United States for the World Cup in 2011. I had to stop feeding him. Those are the hazards of the profession, I guess," remarks the Arjuna awardee.

While Anjali had a relatively smooth time finding the bullseye post motherhood, for Olympic long jumper Anju Bobby George it was the end of her career. Says Anju, "I delivered my baby (Andrea) in 2010 and, continued training, post childbirth. I aimed to make a comeback for the 2012 London Olympics, but I could not. My speed and strength was okay, but the explosiveness needed for the long jump proved elusive."

Anju Bobby George with daughter Andrea
Anju Bobby George with daughter Andrea

Anju chronicled her weight problems, "I was 63 kgs when I was carrying and then put on a lot of weight ballooning to 100 kg. After my delivery I was bedridden since it was a C section. To shed weight and get back to normalcy took longer for me. Despite having help at home, juggling practice and a child became too tough for me. I had a fall three months before a selection trial for the Olympics and that's when I decided to quit as my baby was my world," says Bangalore-based Anju.

The Arjuna awardee finds it surprising that Serena plans to return to court so early. Anju says, "Even American world champion track and field athlete Marion Jones told me that she competed within six months of delivery. The body takes almost a year to recover!"

Anju also marvels at the pictures she saw of Serena while the tennis ace was pregnant. "She didn't put on weight and only had a baby bump. She was lifting weights at the fag end of pregnancy and we Indians are scared to even work out during pregnancy. That's the difference between the Indian and Western mentality," adds Anju.

L Sarita Devi with son Tomthil
L Sarita Devi with son Tomthil

Former world champion boxer, L Sarita Devi, who was born in Thoubal Khunou Thoubal, a rural village in Manipur, says, "For somebody like me who comes from rural Manipur, being an athlete itself is a task. After having a baby (son Tomthil) in 2013, it was more difficult for me to get back to my old shape.

"I was 85 kgs after delivery and I had to be 60 kgs in four and half months before joining the camp for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, which I had never competed in before. During training, I had to feed my son and even late in the night I had to take care of him. That was really challenging."

Anjali Bhagwat with son Aradhya
Anjali Bhagwat with son Aradhya

Feeding woes
Sarita Devi adds, "Exactly a week before the trials for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, I stopped feeding my son. That was the hardest decision of my life. I had to deny feeding him whenever he asked to. Those sacrifices and hardships are difficult to explain." When asked about Serena, the Manipuri boxer says, "I am sure she is mentally prepared for her comeback." Then, the boxer says with a touch of pride, "If I came back with all the hardships, then I think any woman athlete can, no matter what."

From boxing to the crack of a hockey stick, former India women's hockey team goalkeeper and current coach of the national hockey team, Helen Mary says, "I was back to playing after six months of childbirth but it surely wasn't easy. Since I delivered via C section in 2007, working to getting back the kind of fitness, energy levels and agility is immensely difficult. Until you reach 100 per cent fitness, you can be awkward, but after that, it becomes much easier, mentally and physically."

Mary, currently based in Mumbai, adds, "Becoming a mother makes you get double the energy to juggle both worlds. Post delivery, I trained under a professional in Bangalore for six months, running, swimming, going to the gym and then the massage center to relax. Hockey needs tremendous fitness since we have to be on the ground for 60 minutes." Mary adds, "Working out during pregnancy is become a fad/trend now. For me, it was more yoga, light exercises with dumbbells." The hockey whiz signs off, saying comebacks are not just physical, but optimum activity is a way of life for champion sportspersons. "For sportspersons, they cannot sit at home as they have been used to some activity all their lives." The world awaits Serena's comeback point.

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