TORONTO — Newly married and focused on her four-year plan into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Melissa Bishop had planned to put kids on hold. But Canada’s world silver medallist in the 800 metres is due to give birth any day now, and believes she could become a stronger athlete as a mom.
“I think so. Talk to me after labour,” she laughed, in a phone call from her Windsor, Ont., home. “I’m so used to just training full-time, and having that time to myself and having that time to recover from workouts, and I know it won’t be that, and I fully expect that it’s going to be very difficult to come back in the first six months or so.
“But I think it’s just going to be a new normal and something I’m just going to adjust to. I think I’ll be OK. I think I’ll definitely have someone else in my corner, and someone else to fight for, that’s the most exciting part.”
The 29-year-old Bishop and Osi Nriagu had been dating since their days competing at the University of Windsor, and married last fall. They’d planned for kids once Bishop had wrapped up career. But now, its seems like their timing wasn’t so bad, with no Olympics or world championships this year.
“We got a very big surprise. A very good surprise this winter,” Bishop said. “Wasn’t planned but it certainly has worked out for the world in terms of the calendar.”
Bishop will aim to be back in top form for the world championships in Doha, in October of 2019.
The slender 5-7 runner is 38-and-a-half weeks pregnant. She trained throughout her pregnancy, but unlike some athletic moms — American distance runner Kara Goucher famously ran up until the day she gave birth — Bishop found her transformed body wouldn’t permit running.
“Just things the way things shift and they move, I just wasn’t carrying the way I thought I would, I thought I could just breeze through this, with no issues or interruptions, but it hasn’t been that at all,” Bishop said, just in the door from her weekly obstetrician’s appointment.
“I thought that I would be able to run for the majority of the pregnancy. I was so naive to think that, but my body, I don’t know, it wouldn’t allow it. So every day’s been take it as it comes and whatever you’re feeling and whatever you’re capable of doing, do it.”
Bishop lifted weights until her belly got too big, and has otherwise worked in the pool, on a stationary bike and elliptical.
“That’s the only way I’ve been able to keep fitness up, and it’s been good,” she said. “At least I can do that, it’s not like I’ve been stagnant because I would go crazy otherwise, but getting out for walks and things like that have been good.”
Until the 1990s, pregnancy was considered a career-threatening injury by Sport Canada, which would slice a woman’s “carding” money — the monthly stipend Canada’s top athletes receive through the Athlete Assistance Program — when pregnant.
Retired race walker Ann Peel, who was also a founder of athletes rights group AthletesCAN, persuaded the federal government to reinstate carding for pregnant athletes, and have pregnancy treated the same as other long-term absences.
Bishop is among numerous elite female athletes who’ve discovered they don’t have to cut careers short to have kids. Canada’s track and field team alone has included moms: Nikkita Holder, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Jessica Zelinka, Hilary Stellingwerff, and Krista DuChene, a mother of three who finished third at this year’s Boston Marathon.
Bishop has found a great source of support in Stellingwerff and her husband Trent, a Canadian team sports physiologist and nutritionist. Hilary Stellingwerff ran the 1,500 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics after giving birth to Theo, the first of their two sons.
“Just little things that you can do, like I can walk up a hill and get my heart rate up right now (as exercise), just small things I wouldn’t have really thought of that she’s really been able to help me with,” Bishop said.
The runner from Eganville, Ont., was a heartbreaking fourth in the Rio Olympics, erupting in tears after an 800 race race frought with controversy.
South African Caster Semenya, who races amid a cloud of contention, won gold. Semenya demonstrates qualities of hyperandrogenism, and so has significantly higher levels of testosterone than most her rivals. But the IAAF — the world governing body for the sport — ruled in April that women competing in distances between 400 and 1,500 metres can’t race with elevated testosterone levels. Semenya would have to regulate hers through hormone therapy.
But the see-saw battle isn’t over. Semenya announced Monday that she’d filed a legal case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, challenging the IAAF’s regulations.
Bishop has tried to keep the controversy in her event at arm’s length.
“I’ve really just been focusing on myself and the pregnancy and trying to get through this as healthy as possible,” she said. “Again, I can’t do anything about anything, especially this year. I’m just not in that world right now.
“Plus us as the athletes, I’m going to compete no matter what, this is an issue that is much bigger than the people on the track. I’m going to keep doing what I love no matter what. I enjoy it, it’s for me.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press