Last week was Rome. This week it’s Oslo. Wherever she is and however fast she has run on that particular day, it is just before Priscilla Lopes-Schliep beds down for the night that her day is magically put in context through the magic that is Skype. And thanks to the magic that is Nataliya.
“The best is probably in my room at night, just before I go to sleep, when her dad puts on the computer and I can just watch here crawl up to it, smile, crawl away to go play with a toy and then come back again,” Lopes-Schliep said in an interview from Rome, where she finished fifth in the 100-metre hurdles at a Diamond League meet as part of her preparation for London 2012. “You can hear her making her little sounds, and she knows my voice …”
“I mean, it does get tricky at times, like when daddy got her first toothbrush and you can just imagine her brushing her two little teeth and gums,” Lopes-Schliep added, “but it does have a way of removing tension.”
Less than nine months after the birth of her first child, the 29-year-old Whitby, Ont., native and bronze medalist from Beijing 2008 is on course to emerge from a deep pack of Canadian hopefuls for next month’s Olympics in London.
Lopes-Schliep’s time in Rome of 12.81 seconds was well off the winning 12.66 seconds of U.S. hurdler and defending gold medalist Dawn Harper. But it was 14 one-hundredths faster than her third-place time at a meet in Guadeloupe on May 3. That was her first competition since becoming a mother and it, too, was won by Harper in 12.71 seconds, ahead of fellow U.S. runner Ginnie Crawford (12.87 seconds.). One week later, Lopes-Schliep finished second in 12.64 seconds at the Jamaica Invitational.
Lopes-Schliep’s return to competition also saw her finish second at the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic (12.80 seconds) and fifth in 12.95 seconds at the Doha Grand Prix Diamond League event in Qatar.
“The goal is to finish in the top three in nationals,” Lopes-Schliep said, referring to the Canadian Olympic qualifying meet in Calgary at the end of June. “And for me, each race has been about slowly getting the pieces back together.”
Lopes-Schliep, who has a personal best of 12.49 seconds, admits she is lucky to have a support team that includes her coach, Anthony McCleary, Canadian team physician Julia Alleyne, and, of course, her family: mother Sharon, who quit her job to help look after Nataliya, husband Bronsen, an orthodontist she met while at the University of Nebraska, and other family members and friends who, Lopes-Schliep said, make sure she has plenty of up-to-date photographs of Nataliya to look at on plane and bus rides. The support group is particularly important now that Lopes-Schliep’s “rest and recovery periods” after training or a meet have acquired a greater sense of urgency with London calling.
Lopes-Schliep resists the urge to laugh at people who assumed she was going to retire after becoming pregnant. (“I’d hear: ‘So that’s it for you?’ and I’d always respond ‘Uh, nope. Pretty sure I want to go to London,’ ” she said.) She has also said that knowing what she now knows, she would tell any other athlete in her position to “not sell themselves short,” that the worst thing that can happen is “it doesn’t work out.”
“But I’ve always felt like I’m pretty grounded, anyhow,” Lopes-Schliep explained. “The truth is, I really can’t speak for every athlete. For me, I’m finding it doable.
“The whole key is listening to your body. Now, that means watching portions, taking everything in moderation, like proteins. When I was pregnant, it was little workouts – not huge ones. Those little workouts are all adding up to London.”
Lopes-Schliep had a cystic ovary removed in 2007, and admits there were times when her biological clock was as much of a concern as any electronic timer at any meet. Not only was her pregnancy unexpected, but she also developed gestational diabetes. “Everything was kind of put in there, you know?” she asks, chuckling. “But I just faced it. Again, a lot of it is listening to your body.”
Lopes-Schliep realizes now what people meant when they kept telling her that the older a person gets, the more in tune they can become with their body.
She is now also aware of the importance of “little gifts,” and of “keeping your eyes open.” She tells a story of a particularly sluggish day during her pregnancy, when she was in full couch-potato mode. “Probably watching Baby Story,” she laughed. It was easy to run and do things in the first few months of pregnancy, but as her belly became larger, it was exercises in a swimming pool that became a staple. The pool beckoned this particular day, but Lopes-Schliep wasn’t certain she wanted to heed its call. Finally, she did – and no sooner did she get in the water then she felt a kick in her belly, followed by a tap. She tapped her belly. Nataliya tapped back. “One of those moments,” she said, eyes wide open – no hurdle too great.