The 23rd of July, 2021 — The Tokyo Olympics are currently underway, and thousands of athletes are competing in the COVID-19-challenged games. However, about a dozen athletes representing Team USA have an additional distinction: they are mothers.
From Alex Morgan, a star of the United States soccer team, to Skylar Diggins-Smith, a star of the United States basketball team, these women have reached the pinnacle of their respective sports careers by qualifying for this ultimate athletic event.
Foluke Gunderson, a member of the women’s volleyball team and mother to Olukayode Ayodele, who was born in 2019, was one of the most well-known of the twelve. She spoke with us just a few days before departing for Tokyo for her participation in the Games.
Despite the fact that this is her third time competing in the Olympics, this is her first time doing so as a mother. Continue reading to get a behind-the-scenes look at Gunderson’s training schedule, as well as more information on the “mom juggle” and her hopes that the team will win its first-ever gold medal.
How are you feeling right now with the Games right around the corner?
“I’m really looking forward to what’s to come. Throughout the season, our team has put in a lot of effort both on and off the court. With our Zoom calls and monthly meetings, we were able to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grow closer as a team. The work seemed insignificant at the time, but everything came together this summer — our getting to know one another, our shared mission, and ultimately our selflessness — and the culture of our team was transformed,” says a team member.
These Games must feel different now that you’re a mom. What do you love doing most with your son?
“He enjoys going to the park, and reading books is his preferred method of communication, so he enjoys storey time. In May, I left for a tournament that would last five weeks. When I returned, his command of the English language had improved dramatically. He was waving and saying, “Hi, Momma,” as if to greet her. I believe it is important to convey the message that it is easy to define oneself solely by what occurs on the volleyball court when, in reality, we are much more than just volleyball players. Coming home and letting go and pouring my love into him is one of my favourite things to do. During my time in Tokyo, I’ll be doing a lot of FaceTime!
“I’ll use today as an illustration. Beginning at 8:30 a.m, we lifted for an hour and a half before beginning our practise session, which lasted approximately three hours. After that, we had a series of meetings. We typically lift three times a week at our facility. Because we started the day at 7 a.m. on Monday, the schedule is a little different from day to day, but it is always intense.”
What’s one thing you always do to take care of yourself?
“One thing that I always do is drink plenty of water. In addition, I require some personal time. Even if it’s only for 10 to 15 minutes, practising self-care and taking a little time for myself allows me to be a better person for everyone else. In the absence of downtime, I find myself feeling overwhelmed.”
Being an elite athlete is hard enough. Being a mom makes it a real juggle. How do you make it work?
“I believe that it is impossible to do what we do as mothers and athletes without the support of others. My husband is a rock in my life. I have no idea how I would manage this without him. In the time that I am on the road or at practise, he is looking after our son (and getting his MBA, too). You must have a tribe behind you in order for this to work.”
You’ve had an incredible career. What’s one bit of advice you have for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams?
“I always recommend that people set small goals. It’s difficult to look at something that’s thousands of miles away or at the massive task ahead of you. Instead, I prefer to break down a goal into the various steps that must be taken in order to achieve the goal in question. At the end of the day, it is that belief and the idea that if you set your mind to something, nothing can stand in your way. Dreams are achieved through sacrifice, hard work, and a strong belief in oneself.”