Emma Cowper: insights into being a first time mother and professional athlete

Let me introduce one of our ATW Professional Athlete Ambassadors… Emma Cowper!

Emma Cowper competed in the Hertfordshire Triathlon on 23rd May, coming in as the second female in the standard distance event in a time of 2:15.47. Want to know what’s more inspirational? Emma is returning to her professional athlete status after having a baby!

Parents or not, all athlete’s need to hear this

We spoke to Emma about the difference in her pro athlete life before and after having a baby. Here’s what she had to say:

“Before having a baby, I had started to focus on recovery. I work part time so on my days off I would try to nap, write my journal, read and meditate. I’d also be able to meet friends for a coffee now and again. I find it very hard to find the time to do any of those things now. I still enjoy a coffee, but it’s usually in a flask, whilst running around a park or playground. My ‘spare’ time is now entirely focused on my little girl. Training is almost back to pre-pregnancy levels but fitting three sessions in a day, especially on my working days, isn’t particularly easy. My main goal is still to be the best triathlete I can be. How I get to that point is different now, but it’s certainly not impossible. Family has always been a key part of my life, and that’s only been reinforced over the last year.”

For the hundreds of athletes out there in our Active Training World community, who are also parents, this may read as comforting – the idea that parenthood isn’t easy for anyone also trying to the best athlete they can be. The acknowledgment that different paths lead to success is important to those who participated in sports before their children as well as after.

When interviewing Emma, she also made the very important point that there’s no such thing as ‘starting late’ in your sport because everyone’s journey is different – there’s no timeframe we have to follow. Like many successful businessmen and women, and entrepreneurs, sometimes imposter syndrome creeps into athlete’s lives. “I’d always wanted to be a professional athlete but thought I’d missed my chance. When I started winning age group races at Standard distance triathlons, I started to believe that maybe it was still possible. Standing on a start line, entered as a Pro, just feels different. I always had to tell myself that I deserve to be there as much as anyone, no matter where I finish. I imagine I’ll be very emotional when I re-validate my pro licence and am standing on the start line again, after all this time.”

Back to pro

Despite Emma’s background of athleticism, specifically in hockey although she admits to participating in “any activity going”, her journey has not been without setbacks or delays. She admits that sport psychology work helped “immensely” when removing from a number of injuries – a topic which previously when unspoken, but now athletes are speaking out about the mental challenges and methods of strengthening that side of their performance. In terms of pregnancy (which just CAN’T be deemed a setback, more of a delay of athletic progression), Emma spins the answer I was expecting, on its head. She started by explaining, “It’s almost like starting again”, but then went on to give a positive insight to which I was not expecting:

“You see progress every week and it’s really rewarding to feel yourself getting stronger regularly. I’ve tried not to look at times from before I was pregnant, which helps. The tough times are when I’ve not had much sleep and I have to choose between getting up at 4am to do a training session or have some more sleep. Fortunately, the sleeping is improving (for both of us!) as she’s getting older, but there’s always a bad night now and again. I’m lucky I have such a supportive husband who helps make things easier for me.”

Looking to the future, besides enjoying her quick speed work sessions to get her legs turning over or the occasional hard brick session, Emma’s goal is getting her pro licence back to continue the progress she was making. Thinking (even!) bigger, she comments,

“I’ve only completed one Ironman race, and I hadn’t trained properly for it, it was more of an experiment. So, I’d love to give that another go, and be fully prepared this time.”

One final word
Emma’s last insight was for those parents looking to return to their sport after having a child (no matter how many years after!):

“Be patient. My coach brought me back slowly and that’s worked really well for me. Try not to make a return date, just do what is right for you, at your own pace. Make sure that you don’t see some professional women returning and racing after just a few months as the norm. They’re incredible, but they might be in a very different situation. It’s all about you.”

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