When the super athlete pulled her longtime coach aside early last January before a practice session at York University, the expectation was that the conversation would have revolved around her training schedule for the indoor season or something else related to hurdling.
Instead, the first words out of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep’s mouth was, “I am expecting”.
The world’s top ranked female hurdler broke the news last week that she’s three months pregnant.
Anthony McCleary admits he was surprised when the athlete he has coached since 1999 as a 16-year-old sprinter informed him she and her husband Bronson Schliep – a former Nebraska University basketball player – were expecting their first child.
“I was left with my mouth open for a few seconds not knowing what to say,” he told Share. “But when I grasped what she told me, I congratulated her.”
The Whitby resident, who won a four-carat diamond worth $80,000 and a US$40,000 cash prize for winning the inaugural 100-metre hurdles Diamond League seven-race series last year, is expecting in September and will miss the entire 2011 season.
Lopes-Schliep has sliced her training in half as she prepares for motherhood.
“She’s still training five days a week for about two-and-a-half hours a day,” McCleary said. “She is in the swimming pool about two to three times a week and she’s also doing some lifting that includes bench pressing but no squats.”
“I have to be very careful with her and we are working very closely with a medical specialist at Women’s College Hospital to monitor her and ensure that she does not over-extend herself because she’s a very fierce competitor.”
McCleary, Athletics Canada 2009 Coach of the Year, expects 28-year-old Lopes-Schliep to be back on the track next November.
Following a series of competitions in Brazil in May 2007, she 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.
“Knowing Priscilla, she’s going to be working out until the day before she delivers,” he said. “Once her delivery goes smoothly, we are looking at her getting back into competition some time around next March to see where she’s at.”
She’s expected to lead Canada’s challenge at the 2012 London Olympics.
“We are going to miss Priscilla at Daegu (the venue for the 2011 World Championships) but are confident that she and her team will do their utmost to be ready for London,” said Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner. “She has our unequivocal support in every way. Her talent will not disappear and her tenacity will not be diminished. I expect it will be the opposite. Priscilla knows all about the power of family and she’ll thrive with the new addition.”
Lopes-Schliep, whose parents are Guyanese-born, won the Jack Davies trophy and the Phil Edwards Memorial Trophy for being Canada’s 2010 Athlete of the Year and the Outstanding Athlete in track events respectively.
More often that not, 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.