How motherhood has lifted Charlotte Dujardin to new heights

Charlotte Dujardin rarely fails to astound but even by her standards this week has been something special.

The six-time Olympic medallist took gold on the opening day of the 2023 Royal Windsor Horse Show after only three weeks of training and just nine weeks after welcoming her daughter Isabella into the world.

She is not the only Team GB mother to have made a successful return to the sporting sphere after having children and here we celebrate a selection of those journeys to recognise that being an elite athlete and mother is a is different for everyone.

Charlotte Dujardin - an apprehensive return to the top

Dujardin was not without nerves as she prepared for her return to international competition for the first time since becoming a mother.

But the Olympic legend soared to gold, scoring 77.261% on Imhotep as she dominated the 4* Grand Prix in Windsor.

Dujardin announced her pregnancy with husband Dean in August 2022 and gave birth in early March. She was back in the saddle as soon as possible, eager to compete once more, but with a lack of training leading into her first event back, the 37-year-old was under the impression that her riding would be a little out of practice.

Stepping into the ring saw her worries wash away and with little Isabella watching on from the sidelines, a new type of competitor emerged in Dujardin - one that was also a mother inspiring her daughter.

"I was thinking, 'have I still got it? Can I still do it?',” she said. “But I got on and it felt amazing.

"I haven't competed for eight months, and Pete [Imhotep] hasn't done a competition since the FEI World Championships.

"I have only been back riding for three weeks – so I was worried I would be a bit ring rusty – but he was incredible and was so positive with his energy.

"There are still areas that we can improve on which is exciting – we are now aiming for the FEI European Championships this summer.

"I have such amazing memories of Royal Windsor Horse Show having competed here in the Showing as a child – it has such a wonderful atmosphere and to be back here is just so special.

"It is now Isabella’s time to support Mummy and I hope I have done her proud."

Lizzie Deignan - cycling until the final moment

Dujardin is not the only mother who recently returned to international competition, with cyclist Lizzie Deignan set to return to the UK roads for Ride London later this month.

The 2012 Olympic silver medallist gave birth to her second child in September 2022 and returned to the Women's Tour circuit back in April this year.

Deignan was on her bike until the very last moment during her second pregnancy and has been a fierce believer in caring for her own mental and physical wellbeing whilst carrying, finding solace in her everyday routine of pedalling.

"I was cycling up until the day before I gave birth, although I wouldn’t describe it as training –more just keeping the legs spinning," she said.

"As a professional cyclist, I'm aware of the risks of being on the road every day, pregnant or not, but I've come to accept it's a part of my job, and I suppose I was of the same opinion during pregnancy.

"It wasn't like there was an increased likelihood of crashing, so it came down to a personal decision about my mental health, really, although I minimalised the risks by avoiding the heat of the day and choosing routes in low-traffic areas.

"Before being pregnant, I probably wouldn’t have thought I'd ride on the road while pregnant, but once you’re in that position yourself, nine months is a long time to stay indoors.

"Ultimately, it should always be the mum's choice.

Dame Laura Kenny - tackling heartbreak

Dame Laura Kenny won her fifth Olympic gold after giving birth to her first child Albie in 2017.

Kenny is now the most successful British female athlete in Olympic history, a title that has often been batted back and forth between the track cyclist and Dujardin, with five golds and one silver to her name.

But following the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Kenny suffered a very personal heartbreak as she revealed that she had suffered a miscarriage in 2021 and underwent surgery for an ectopic pregnancy in 2022.

Kenny decided to share her journey to break the taboo of talking about miscarriage and encouraging others to share their own stories.

"Since the Olympics we haven't had much luck and it's been the hardest few months I've ever had to go through," she wrote on Instagram.

"Jason and I fell pregnant immediately after the Games and we were absolutely chuffed to bits. "But unfortunately, in November I miscarried our baby at nine weeks.

"I've never felt so lost and sad. It felt like a part of me had been torn away.

"I then caught Covid in mid-January and found myself feeling really very unwell.

"A day later I found myself in A&E being rushed to theatre because I was having an ectopic pregnancy.

"If it wasn't for Jason and Albie getting me through the day to day I'd have been broken.

"Miscarriage is a lot more common than people realise which is why I have decided to share our heartbreak, to help support others."

In January 2023, Kenny revealed the happy news that she was expecting her second child with her husband Jason.

With Kenny and Deignan paving the path for mothers within British Cycling, Elinor Barker and Katy Marchant have also started their own families and returned to action (and the podium) within a year of giving birth.

Sportsbeat 2023