The US Olympics around the corner have enlisted help from a new assistant coach, 100-meter hurder Dawn Harper-Nelson, although not as you might expect.
Like other coaches, the new coach will watch carefully from the sides, yelling as Harper Nelson, a gold medalist at the 2008 Olympia in Beijing, performs sprints and speed drills, and this coach is also her daughter, who has not grasped what is happening.
“Having her at the track is hilarious, tiresome and wonderful all in the same,” Harper-Nelson tells CNN Sport.
Her daughter, Harper, is often in close proximity, whether she is at the track or in the gym.
“It’s funny the things she catches on to,” Harper-Nelson adds. “She’s playing with her toys that we bring out, you’re not realizing how much she’s really absorbing everything around her. She does a countdown: ‘Three, two, one, go!’ And she’ll start running on her own.”
The silver medal also won at the 2012 Olympics, Harper-Nelson announced her withdrawal from athletic activities in 2018 when she said that she wanted to start her family. In 2018 she retired from athletics.
But the thought of returning continued to flow through her mind after she had left the sport.
“I thought about it constantly — that I still love to compete,” she says. “I felt my body was still capable … and I was thinking: ‘I don’t want my daughter to think that mommy had to give up on her other dreams for me.'”
Harper-Nelson, 36, admits at an early stage in his career that her primary focus was always on athletics, never being a mum and an athlete.
“Throughout my career, I feel like there have been other opportunities, like TV things where I turned them down because I’m like: no, my focus is the Olympics, it’s the Olympic year,” she says.
“Now having a daughter, it is more on my plate than any TV show or anything could have added.
“I would have it no other way — I love the stress and pressure that I put on myself … I see her little face and see her smile and I’d do it all again.”
Harper-Nelson hopes to inspire other mothers not to surrender to their dream sport as she continues her preparing for the Olympic trials in June, and perhaps also the Olympics in Tokyo a month later.
The 23-time grandslam winner who has come back to tennis after the birth of her daughter Olympia is her very own source of inspiration.
Harper-Nelson, the most decorated athlete of US history in the track and play field to compete at its fifth straight Olympics and Jamaican mom Allyson-Fraser-Pryce, a two-time Olympic medalist at 100 meters, could have the company for track and play athletes at the 2012 Games.
With her return to the hurdles, Harper-Nelson explains how she wants to defy the mindset that says “you don’t have it after you have a child, physically,” and “you just need to accept it, moms. You have a mom bod now.”
“We can do it if we choose,” she says. “It is my life. It is my decision. And so for me, I just feel like this go round (the Olympics) means so much more.”
Prior to Tokyo 2020, Harper-Nelson has been sponsored by & Mother, an organization based in the US which is seeking to overcome obstacles to women being both an athlete and mom. &Mother was co-founded by seven-time US national champion and 2012 Olympian Alysia Montaño, who, as well as Felix, has been critical of the way mothers — and aspiring mothers — are treated within the sport.
Last month, &Mother announced a partnership with Cadenshae, an active wear company that supports athletes such as Harper-Nelson in their preparation for the Olympic trials, in terms of training, travel, family support and sportswear.
“After my awful experiences, I’ve been on a mission to find companies who will back and showcase the ‘whole person,’ not just the athlete,” says Montaño.
“We need other brands, other companies to sponsor female professional athletes for their whole career … not just the times that best serve them.”
Sara Vaughn, an American mid-range runner who is competing at 1500m is another athlete who has been backed by & Mother in advance of Tokyo.
Besides being an elite runner, Vaughn is also a mother of four in Boulder County, Colorado, a fully-fledged real estate agent; adaptation is a key component of her training programme.
“I do block out time for my running, I treat it as any other meeting and I try to block out time,” Vaughn tells CNN Sport, adding that her current schedule is a 60/40 split between real estate and running.
“But in our real estate market and just the nature of my job, sometimes things change really quickly, or also the nature of having four kids. Stuff just changes.
“I’m fortunate that my husband is my coach and he usually can foresee those things and make adjustments on the fly. There was a day a couple of weeks ago where I planned a workout at 10 a.m. and actually didn’t get it done until 4:30 that afternoon.”