Alyce Wood trained with the National team in the Kayak until she was 33 weeks pregnant – and she could have kept training if only she could fit in the boat! Alyce continued dry land training until the morning she went into labour. Alyce’s daughter, Florence, was born on the 23rd June which is coincidentally Olympic Day and will be joining her at the Paris 2024.

Can you tell us about your journey into motherhood and how it intersected with your athletic career? 

Starting a family was incredibly important to my husband and I post the Tokyo Olympics, but I knew I wasn’t ready to hang up the paddle. I was originally quite worried about the feasibility of this and whether it was worth the sacrifice, but ultimately we decided that bringing Florence into a world surrounded by my teammates who chase their dreams every day was the right decision. 

Did you maintain some form of training throughout your pregnancy? 

I trained with our National team in the Kayak until 33 weeks (when I couldn’t physically sit in the boat any longer) and then continued on dry land until the morning I went into labor. I was incredibly lucky to have such a supportive coaching team who worked right throughout my pregnancy to ensure Florence and I were always safe whilst training at an elite level. Florence was born 23rd June 2022. Co-incidentally, she was born on Olympic Day. 

What was your journey back into elite-level form and what motivated your return?

When I finished at the Tokyo Olympics there was a feeling inside of me knowing that if I retired then, I would regret it. I knew I wasn’t done. Since then, the dream to go to my third Olympic Games with Florence cheering me on has been my main point of motivation. 

Did you encounter any unique challenges, obstacles or barriers as a mother returning to competition and how did you navigate them? 

Balancing the expectations of a being a new Mum and an Athlete has been challenging. On one hand, there are so many social pressures on new mums to feed, change, bathe, nurse and be incredibly present in every moment of their baby’s life. Then on the other hand, I am on a strict timeline in the lead up to Paris, which 

requires me to be selfish at times and lean heavily on my support network. The guilt pulling me both ways has been real, but it’s also taught me how to prioritise my time and energy. 

During your journey back into elite-level form, have there been instances where you have been pleasantly surprised? 

When I came back, I felt very strongly about never wanting to race in a K1 (single boat) internationally ever again. I think I had lost the confidence I used to have by myself and wanted to pursue a different route. But at 8 months post-partum we had our National team selection trials (Feb 2023), and I won the K1. This result is something I never thought was possible and made me believe in myself again after so many months of doubting my abilities.

Can you share any strategies you used to manage stress or maintain resilience during this demanding time? 

My whole support team and I agree that being a Mum has made me a better athlete and being an athlete has made me a better Mum. We’ve created a routine that allows me to best spread my time, whilst also understanding that babies are experts in throwing the best made plans out the window. Operating under the premise that there are many pathways to success, we’ve become experts at redesigning a training week, and repositioning Florence-sitting duties, whilst keeping the overarching performance goal in the forefront. 

What does your weekly training schedule look like? 

I do around 13 sessions per week. 10 paddling sessions and 3 gym sessions, each of which go for about an hour. Then around this, I spend a lot of time with my support team working on different things like race plans, recovery, nutrition, biomechanics and more. 

How has your experience as a mother influenced your approach to training and competition?

Kids teach you that you don’t need to sweat the small stuff. When they’re learning to walk they fall over a thousand times, but get up a thousand more, always with a smile on their face and so much determination. 

This is now how I approach my training. It’s unrealistic to think I am going to produce PB’s every day, so rather than get caught up in negative energy when I have a bad session, I address the issue and get up and go again. 

What is your stance on the sporting industry and their support of professional athlete mothers? 

Whilst there’s been a groundswell of support behind Mum-Athletes in recent years, it’s still not a ‘normal’ route. As more women take this path, many sporting organisations are now introducing policies which is amazing to see, but ensuring these are fit for purpose will take time. In my opinion though, the biggest gap is within the actual physicality of the pregnancy and post-partum periods as there is still so much unknown about how much we can exert ourselves. There are currently a number of dedicated studies underway that specifically look at elite athletes, rather than the general population, which is incredibly exciting. These will help eliminate stigma and create a less stressful environment for mums and their support teams when looking at training prescriptions. 

Over your sporting career, what are some highlights? 

Hands down my favorite memory to date is when I was announced onto the Paris Olympic team and got to accept my ticket with Florence in my arms. 

Before that though, the K2 500m final in Tokyo where we got 5th beats any medal moment I’ve had. This race was the fastest race on record and one that I am super proud to be part of. 

What advice can you give to working mums of young children when it comes to the internal tug of war – competing priorities between career and family? 

Everyone’s journey is so unique, so don’t try and model yourself off someone else’s priorities and expectations. My best advice is to give yourself permission to have a laundry full of dirty clothes, or a child wearing odd socks to daycare. Be flexible, laugh at yourself sometimes and enjoy the little moments. 

What do you believe are the most significant values that the Olympics promote, and how do you embody them, especially since becoming a mum? 

Having respect for yourself, your teammates, your competitors and the environment you operate in is one of my favourite values. I believe if you don’t show respect to others, then you shouldn’t expect to receive it, and this is something I try to instill in Florence everyday. 

How do you inspire children and young athletes to pursue their dreams in sports while maintaining a healthy lifestyle? 

For me, a healthy lifestyle encompasses things from the food you eat, to the environment you’re in to the people you hang out with. When I was young I thought that to be an Olympic athlete I had to live and breathe sport, and that nothing else mattered, but the reality is that without balance in your life, you risk burnout. If the next generation of athletes are able to find this balance earlier in their careers than my generation then Australian sport will be in a very good place. 

Can you share any specific strategies or initiatives you have for time poor parents to adopt healthier habits? 

You’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient to do it. This makes it easy to stick to a habit. Even as an athlete I eat very quick and easy meals so I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing with Florence. 

How has motherhood influenced your perspective on nutrition and maintaining fitness levels?

I don’t think motherhood has changed my ideas on nutrition or fitness, instead it’s made me more aware of the choices I make when I’m around Florence. 

Can you share any personal experiences or challenges you’ve faced in ensuring your children have a balanced and nutritious diet? 

Since Florence started eating solids we’ve tried to feed her what we eat, but I’ve had to learn to be flexible with this because some days she turns into an incredibly fussy toddler who refuses anything but bland food. On those days ‘food is fuel,’ and rather than trying to get variety in her diet, I just aim to hit the main food groups and be OK with that. 

Can you list five things that the Australian public may not know about you? 

  1. I have two Uni Degrees – Bachelor of Communications and a Master of Business Administration. 2. I grew up in a family of water-skiers. 
  2. My husband is a two-time Olympian and his parents are both Olympic medalists. 
  3. I always race with something pink on me. 
  4. I patrolled the beaches as a volunteer lifesaver for 10 years. 

What advice do you have for athletes who are thinking of embarking on starting a family?

Start the conversation with your sport early. There are three main reasons for this: 

  1. You can properly understand what type of policy they have in place and if it needs updating. 2. You can start to record some baselines which become an incredibly important tool for comparison throughout your pregnancy and postpartum training. Things like your Heart Rate, RPE’s, range of movement etc. 
  2. You can get in contact with your doctor / dietician to chat about all things related to your menstrual cycle and get some early bloods done. 

Will your family take the journey to Paris whilst you compete on the world stage?

They sure will! My husband (who himself is a 2-time Olympian) will be there with Florence along with my Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother and their partners.

IMAGE CREDITS: Jade Ferguson @visualpoetssociety

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