While Canada’s track and field team is in South Korea preparing for the world championships starting tomorrow, the former number one ranked 100-metre hurdler is back home getting ready for motherhood.
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and husband Bronsen Schliep – a former Nebraska University basketball player who is doing his dentistry residency in the city – are expecting their first child – a girl – on September 20.
Lopes-Schliep, who ran a world-best 12.52 secs. last year at the London Grand Prix, admits missing the thrill of competition and the opportunity to medal. Her disappointment is however tempered by the emergence of new training partners Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder who are at the 13th biennial meet with Anthony McCleary who has been the champion hurdler’s coach since 1999.
“I am excited by these two girls and they are my motivation to come back strong,” said Lopes-Schliep who won the inaugural 2010 Diamond League seven-race series that was worth an $80,000 four-carat diamond and a $40,000 cash prize. “We are going to have an amazing group next year and I am really looking forward to coming back to that kind of atmosphere.”
The silver medalist at the last world championships in Berlin two years ago plans to contend for her first Olympic gold medal in London next year. She won a bronze medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, becoming the first Canadian to medal at the Olympics in 12 years.
“Definitely, I would love to make that Olympic team and get on that podium,” said last year’s world indoor championship bronze medalist whose personal best outdoors is 12.49 secs. established in Brussels two years ago. “I never sell myself short…Jessica Zelinka (the Canadian heptathlete) achieved her personal best four months after having her baby. I have more than four months to get ready for London and I will have a mini cheerleader coming pretty soon. I am truly excited to see how the sport has grown in Canada. We have a lot of talent here and we are going to put Canada on the map.”
If the pregnancy ends smoothly, McCleary expects his star athlete to be back on the track before the end of the year.
“She could be doing very light work a month after delivery and, as far as competition goes, she could be in some indoor meets next February and March,” he said.
As Holder and George wound down training in Toronto at York University last week, Lopes-Schliep was off at the side of the track with her legs pulling against the stiff resistance of bungee cords wrapped around her ankles.
McCleary says this exercise keeps hurdlers hips active.
During the summer, she spent nearly two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at York running, doing hurdles drills and lifting weights while swimming on alternate days,
“I try to keep her as active as possible and in shape,” said McCleary. “Her workouts are not heavy. In fact, they are pretty simple and easy. I am in touch with her doctor and Athletics Canada medical personnel and she has been cleared to take it as far as she can.”
With her coach and new teammates away, Lopes-Schliep is continuing her workouts alone at a track near her home.
“I am still physically and mentally capable of doing light workouts and drills,” she said. “In fact, I have added just 13 pounds in the pregnancy and that’s all in my torpedoed belly.”
Lopes-Schliep has remained mainly healthy during the pregnancy despite suffering from lipodystrophy, a genetic condition that can lead to diabetes which afflicts several of her family members.
A few weeks ago, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes which develops in the second half of pregnancy and disappears after birth.
“That’s been a setback for me,” she said. “I have to schedule workouts and have my snacks and eat my meals at certain times to ensure my sugar is not too high,” said Lopes-Schliep who was born in Canada 28 years ago to Guyanese immigrants. “The doctors say my numbers are low and I have a little wiggle room so if I want to have some curry and roti, I can do so. I can’t have as much as I would normally want to have.”
The Jack Davies trophy and the Phil Edwards Memorial Trophy recipient for being Canada’s 2010 Athlete of the Year and the Outstanding Athlete in track events respectively is buoyed by the knowledge that, apart from Zelinka, other high-performance women athletes have bounced back well from pregnancy.
Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters upset then #3 seed Venus Williams at the 2009 United States Open after taking a two-year break from the game to give birth to her daughter while mother-of-five Commonwealth gold medalist Liz McColgan, who ran five miles the day before giving birth to her first child, won a world cross country championship bronze medal 11 weeks after delivery.
Others have competed with success at international events while pregnant. Canadian long distance swimmer and Order of Ontario recipient Winnie Roach-Leuszier, who died seven years ago, won the five-mile world championship in 1946 while she was three months pregnant.
At last year’s Vancouver Winter Olympics, Kristie Moore – an alternate on the Canadian curling team – was almost six months pregnant.
Following a series of competitions in Brazil in May 2007, Lopes-Schliep underwent surgery to remove a cyst on one of her ovaries. She was back training in July that year to qualify for the world championships in Osaka, Japan in the summer.