To celebrate Mother’s Day, we’ve caught up with Olympic snowboarder Zoe Gillings-Brier to find out how she balances motherhood with being an elite athlete.
In August 2016, Zoe gave birth to daughter Lea before returning to the snowboard cross circuit this winter – with her little one in tow!
A fortnight ago she secured her best finish of the season when she came ninth at the Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Sierra Nevada.
And with next winter’s Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang on the horizon, Zoe gave us an insight into how she balances everything.
What is it like being on the road with a young family?
In a word, busy! As all parents will know, parenthood is very busy. Then throw in training, competing and travelling and things get very full.
But overall I love it. I love snowboarding and I love being a mother as well. Like most people as an expectant mother, I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I love it. Lea is absolutely awesome.
She’s always on the road with us. She’s spent more time away from home than she’s spent at home in her six months of life so far.
All the other girls on the World Cup tour are really friendly. They all come over and say hi and have a cuddle.
I’ve been encouraging them all to talk to her in their native language so there’s been lots of French, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish.
She’s really sociable and loves meeting new people and seeing new faces and smiling at people.
What is the support network like?
My husband, and Lea’s father, Dan is a great help. He is also my coach, bag carrier, cheerleader, team manager, snowboard technician – he has lots of roles!
We’ve had someone from the extended family out for every competition and most of the training in the winter.
It’s been mostly my mum but a fair amount has been Dan’s dad as well. They love it though. They get to look after a cute baby and travel around the world, going to competitions and watching all these athletes compete.
What is it like juggling being an elite athlete and a mum?
It’s tricky at times. When I get home at the end of the day and it’s already 4pm and I haven’t seen her most of the day apart from 15 minutes in the morning – that can be tough.
I miss her when I’m away. But it kind of makes coming home even more special. I look forward to going out to training but I look forward to coming home as well, so it’s all good.
What’s your general routine on a competition day?
I will help in the morning with Lea. I will be getting myself ready and half getting her ready. I will do the odd bit but not have too much responsibility as there’s a grandparent there normally.
Every competition so far there’s been a restaurant fairly close to the bottom of the course. Lea and whoever is out helping that week will hang out in the restaurant basically.
I will go up to the competition and then come back down at the end of the day. We’ll then go back to the accommodation together, I’ll have a bit of a play with Lea and do my recovery and ice baths and eat. It’s a routine. That’s life now and it’s awesome.
How did you find it coming back into competition?
I think it probably was harder that I thought and probably harder mentally.
Of course physically it was tough. I remember getting back into the gym and realising I had no abs strength whatsoever. But it all came back quite quickly.
I’m not back up physically to where I was pre-pregnancy. I think it’s going to be the end of the summer but I’ve felt good on the board.
I think I’ve developed two brains. I’ve got a mummy brain and an athlete brain and I seem to swap between them.
As soon as I’m on the mountain competing or training, I’m completely in athlete brain. I will think about Lea but I’m very focused on what I’m doing.
And then as soon as I finish competing or training for the day, I’m back to mummy brain with Lea. I just swap between the two.
Hope and plans for the months ahead counting down to Pyeongchang
Things have been good so far. I still feel like I’m improving on the snow, my results are getting steadily better through the winter which is always great.
I’m looking forward to the summer and getting some fitness training under my belt – I’m hoping to get out on the snow in the southern hemisphere this summer.
But so far so good ahead of next year, I’m really looking forward to it.
Do you want Lea to follow in your footsteps?
I certainly want to introduce her to snowboarding. But I also want to introduce her to lots of different sports.
I’ve actually got a plan already with her dad. We want to introduce her to gymnastics when she’s young so then she’ll have a really good base for other sports. And also we want her to do some sort of ball sport. Those are the two that I’d like to introduce her to and then anything else she fancies giving a go is fine.
I’m just going to encourage her to try different things, like with trying different foods. If you don’t like it, fair enough but just give it a go. There are thousands of sports out there. It’s worth giving a load a go to find out what you like and don’t like.
And finally, what's the best thing about being a mum and elite athlete at the same time?
Getting down to the bottom of a run having done really well in a race and then getting to go over and give the cutest person in the world a big hug.
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