Competing in Freestyle Kayaking While Pregnant
Emily Jackson talks of her experience at the U.S. Team Trials
As a professional kayaker I have always excelled in the arena of freestyle competitions. Just this past weekend I got to compete at the U.S. Freestyle Team Trials. I have been a member of the U.S. team for 10 years, and I was excited at the prospect of competing to be a part of the team once again. This time was a touch different, and if you had asked me about it several months ago I wouldn’t have thought it would even be possible. The reasoning is that by the time I would be actually competing, I was seven months, one week pregnant.
Mentally and physically I knew this would be different than any other competition I had ever participated in. There are always your firsts for everything. I tried to set myself for low expectations, but for the month of training my paddling was cooperating so well with my body and pregnancy. I would feel less pregnant when I was in my boat. My life jacket would cover the bulge of my very pregnant belly, and my legs and ankles wouldn’t hurt because I was simply sitting down. Two weeks before the event, it was common for me to get both phonics monkeys in a ride, along with random tricky woo’s, back loop attempts, air loops, space godzillas and more. The biggest challenge was going from one move to the next. I could get five good moves in 45 seconds, but couldn’t necessarily move fast. Also once my breath was gone, my moves were gone too …
By a couple days before the event, leaning forward got even trickier, causing my techniques and my paddling to be a touch harder but still no cause for concern. My weight was continually going up so I weighed an extra 23 pounds by the time I was competing. Mentally, I just kept telling myself to make round after round, of which I did successfully, even after having some of my worst rides in my recent career. Mentally I was starting to struggle as the whole no-expectations thing went out the door.
Not doing my best in a rodeo was unique in the sense that I usually excel. It was painful as I take so much pride in my ability to pull things out in high pressure. The finals were exactly that; I mentally struggled as the water shot up and the finals was in an incredibly flushy feature. Once I was in the water, though, I was actually very excited and relaxed. I made it to finals, which was a feat alone, and I had all the moves and skills necessary to win and make the team. My first ride was okay. I came back with a score lower than I expected, (maybe I wasn’t getting enough pop) so that made me nervous. My second ride, I flushed over and over. And my third ride I went in thinking I had scored 70 points and needed 40 more to make the team, so I tried to split and flushed. Instead I had 100 points so all I needed was one spin.
It was so crushing knowing I came that close and didn’t pull it out. But at the same time, I should be overjoyed with pride in the sense that I am still kayaking. Everyone thinks that having a kid is about compromise, choosing your battles, and settling down more. Paddling while pregnant has taught me that if you love what you are doing enough, you will always find a way. People wonder what my priorities are, such as if my kid was my number one priority wouldn’t I just put my feet up and focus on him entirely. I do focus on him almost all day every day, but I know that my happiness is key for him to be healthy. Bored, stressed and sitting around would be worse for my baby than me paddling and enjoying every second of it. Much of my views come from the fact that I am having a low-risk pregnancy. I truly believe constantly doing what I love is contributing to that.
So in the end, I didn’t compete like I wanted to, but I did more than I ever would have imagined several months ago. I have had the most support I could ask for from my family and, most of all, my husband. Most of my disappointment turned into relief the evening afterwards when my mini man had a hyper party and was kicking and rolling around for several hours. I knew after that moment that it was all worth it, as here I am, still paddling, and my son is perfectly healthy and already active!
Best of luck to all the active moms out there. Remember to choose a doctor that listens to you; surround yourself with those who support you. Also, remember to listen to your partner as it’s their child too, and sometimes they might actually know what they are talking about.
Emily Jackson is the 2012 World Cup Champion, 2009 Women’s World Freestyle Champion and 2011 Silver Medalist