August 2022, Articles

Not finished with rowing - the pregnant pioneer

At 24 weeks pregnant most women would be forgiven for putting their feet up for a mid-afternoon break. Not so Tokyo Olympic rower Lucy Spoors who is more likely to head to the gym or out on the water for a training session.

The pioneering rower, who competed at the Henley Regatta at 17 weeks pregnant, is debunking myths on her journey to achieve two of her most important goals – starting a family and aiming for a place at the Paris Olympics.

Lucy’s story is not only a very personal journey but one of teamwork and support from everyone at Rowing NZ – athlete performance support staff, fellow rowers and administrators.

At the end of the Tokyo Olympic Games, eights silver medallist Lucy Spoors made two decisions – to aim to be selected for Paris so she could row in front of family and friends and to start a family sooner rather than later to allow her to peak for Paris.

“I wanted to be pregnant as soon as possible after Tokyo to give myself a longer runway leading into Paris,” says Lucy.

An early miscarriage and then taking longer than expected to get pregnant compacted the timeframe she had in my mind.

“I realise now you don’t get to choose how your pregnancy journey runs but I think the dream to compete in Paris is still viable.”

As soon as she knew she was pregnant, Lucy advised HPSNZ’s Rowing health lead, Dr Stu Armstrong, and HR manager.  “I’ll never forget that first conversation with Stu.  He said do you want to race at the World Cup in the double sculls?  My immediate reaction was is that possible and what will I be able to do training-wise?”

Reassurance from Stu, support from physiologist Caroline McManus and 100% acceptance from her fellow rowers and the wider Rowing NZ community meant Lucy could work towards her goal of being on the start line at the World Cup in Lucerne in a double scull with fellow Olympian Emma Twigg.

“I had a lot of reassurance that it was safe to push and extend myself every morning.  I think to really extend yourself physically as rowers do in training I had to truly believe it was safe for me and for the baby.  Stu and Caroline gave me the confidence it was the right thing to do but at the end of the day my desire to do both had to be very strong.”

Dr Stu Armstrong said that he didn’t think for a moment Lucy wouldn’t be able to race.  “I knew she would be able to do the World Cup however the World Champs (in September) would be out of reach.”

Stu says a lot of what he has worked on with Lucy is breaking down barriers and debunking myths around pregnancy and exercise.

“There is plenty of medical evidence to show that Lucy would be able to perform the same level of exercise as she had been doing prior to getting pregnant.  Essentially that is what her body is used to.

“In addition, the stronger, healthier and fitter a woman is in pregnancy, the easier it is to get through birth.”

Lucy has had an additional challenge to contend with, suffering badly with nausea and vomiting.

“Vomiting up to eight times a day meant there were days when I had to be really honest with myself about what training I could do.”

“It also meant I worked very closely with HPSNZ nutritionist Christel Dunshea-Mooij to make sure I was getting enough nutrient dense food and staying hydrated to enable me to train as much as possible.  I couldn’t stomach gels during training on the water, but I could stomach peanut butter sandwiches or digestive biscuits under her suggestion.”

Lucy achieved her dream of heading off on the World Cup tour, successfully making It through the first two rounds in a single scull at Henley.

“Emma and I then had the World Cup double sculls In Lucerne in our sights at which time I would be 18 weeks pregnant.  Ironically we didn’t end up getting onto the water as Emma came down with COVID-19.”

Stu says sport is seeing more and more athletes competing at the highest level while pregnant or with a family.

“I don’t know of any other rowers who have competed at this level while pregnant.  It may just be that Lucy has been the first rower who has been happy to share her story as a way of educating and breaking down barriers for women.”

Lucy’s journey has been a learning curve for many of her HPSNZ and Rowing NZ performance support team.

“The physio had to adapt a programme that would improve pelvic strength and our strength and conditioning coach had to develop a programme that had no weight bearing exercises on my back to protect my pelvic floor,” says Lucy.

With baby due in December, Lucy is still training at 24 weeks but does know she will start to reduce her workload.

“I plan to train as long as I can safely and will continue to make adjustments for me and for baby.  The biggest barrier will be my ability to get in and out of a boat!”

Lucy Spoors