Priscilla Lopes-Schliep doesn't have far to look to find inspiration to help propel her on her road back to the Olympics.
The new mom and Olympic bronze medallist knows the eight months between now and the London Games might not be all smooth sailing, but says her competitive fire is fuelled by her daughter Nataliya, who turns 10 weeks old on Friday.
"Everyone says, 'Oh you had a baby, are you retiring?' No, I'm ready to come back, I'm ready to go harder," Lopes-Schliep said. "I have this little baby girl who's at home and doesn't know it yet but is my biggest cheerleader, and has basically instilled in me the drive and motivation to come back and work hard to get back on that podium."
The 29-year-old from Whitby, Ont., was the world's No. 1-ranked hurdler when she became pregnant in 2010.
She's been given the green light to resume training, and based on her physical appearance certainly looks like she could lace up the spikes to race in the near future.
Joining triathletes Simon Whitfield and Paula Findlay at the opening of Nike's new running store in Eaton Centre on Wednesday, the hurdler wore a zipped-up track jacket and tight jeans, and her well-muscled thighs and arms look virtually unchanged from her powerful physique that carried her to Olympic bronze in Beijing.
But Lopes-Schliep, who met her husband Bronsen Schliep when he was playing basketball and she was running track at the University of Nebraska, is taking a cautious approach to her return.
She was in the pool training two weeks after giving birth - "the pool is very forgiving, you don't feel the gravity," she said.
She's in close consultation with Dr. Julia Alleyne, a sports medicine physician, and a recent ultrasound showed her abdominal muscles are almost completely healed.
The hurdler, who won the prestigious Diamond League title in 2010, just recently began to run with any sort of intensity at the track at York University.
"Yesterday I was doing 100s and I felt I could open up, but everything is about listening to the body, and making sure that I'm not pushing too much but I am pushing," she said.
"If the body says 'Oh Priscilla, not quite yet,' I listen to that. But if the body is like 'Hey I feel good,' I push. I'm basically having my body be my guide. I've listened to it in the past and it hasn't led me wrong before, and I'm going to trust the gut and go with it."
Lopes-Schliep doesn't normally tote baby to the track, preferring to leave her with her mom or husband or the numerous other family members who are happy to watch Nataliya.
"First day she came with mommy to track practice. Track practice was at 12:30, I started getting ready at 9:30. I can't do that every day, there's no way," Lopes-Schliep said laughing.
Whitfield, an Olympic gold and silver medallist and also a father of two young children, paused to give Lopes-Schliep a pat on the back for her comeback, saying he knows it's not easy being a both parent and a world-class athlete.
"I've got two kids, I keep saying I'm a king of the jogging stroller, there's no one in my neighbourhood who's taken me on with that jogging stroller," Whitfield said, laughing.
"Hill reps with that jogging stroller... that will get you over those hurdles," he said to Lopes-Schliep. "That's definitely part of the challenge is balancing that, but I love it."
Lopes-Schliep's agent Kris Mychasiw said they'll take a wait-and-see approach to her racing. She'll do a warm-weather training camp next month and maybe another in January, and they'll gauge her progress from there.
"The main thing for us is to be smart in our decisions with the Olympics coming quickly, there's not a lot of room for error and by rushing to back too soon could ultimately set us back in the big picture," Mychasiw said.
"There has been requests for her at some of the largest, most prestigious events on the circuit, however for the time being we are not confirming anything until we are certain she is ready to race with the worlds best," he added.
For now, she's taking it slowly and enjoying her daughter.
"It's just neat because I know when I go home after practice, just seeing Nataliya, she's just a little sweetie pie," Lopes-Schliep said. "And when I sing to her she gives me the biggest smiles and she's starting to make baby coo sounds, it makes my heart melt.
"It's neat to have that and it's only going to get more fun as the year goes on."
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