“Training since having my daughter has been very challenging. It’s taken a massive team effort and investment from my family so I can train like a professional athlete.”
Chelsea Sodaro, who won yesterday’s Ironman World Championship on debut in Kona, is talking about her return to top level triathlon within weeks of giving birth to daughter, Skye, 18 months ago.
The victory in Hawaii also made her only the second mother, after Switzerland’s Natascha Badmann, to win the coveted title on the Big Island.
“I’m human and I deal with the same issues any woman would deal with when trying to return to exercise postpartum. It’s quite a journey.”
Sodaro explained that while pregnant she decided she wanted to try and qualify for the 2021 Collins Cup, a team competition that pits USA versus Europe and the Rest of the World that takes place in Slovakia.
“It was going to take place when I was five months postpartum and I had to validate my qualification with a race when I was four months postpartum,” she explained.
“I didn’t really know what it meant when I set that goal and it turns out it’s really hard to get back to racing after you’ve a baby – go figure!
“I started back on a training plan when I was six weeks postpartum. My fellow athletes are probably tired of me talking about my postpartum journey and being a mum and all this stuff.
“But I’m not going to stop talking about it until things are more equitable and women feel more comfortable that they can choose both family and sport at the highest level.”
PTO maternity policy
As well as her family, Sodaro also benefited from the Professional Triathletes Organisation’s maternity policy that ensured she wouldn’t lose out financially through becoming pregnant and not being able to race.
Plus, there was also the understanding of a new coach, New Zealand-based Brit Dan Plews.
“I started working with Dan when I was six weeks pregnant and when I told him, I said: ‘I appreciate this might not be what you signed up for and I understand if you wanted to put things on hold or not accept the job.’
“He said: ‘That is the most incredible news, congratulations, I am so happy for you, how can I support you?’ I think it’s unique for a male coach to respond that way.
“It meant everything and he’s continued to be a brilliant coach in terms of prescribing training and has been incredibly patient with me in my return to racing post pregnancy and childbirth.
“He’s just a wonderful human which is the kind of person I like to associate with.”
Plews is also the amateur course record holder in Kona with a time of 8:24 in 2018, which is just 2mins faster than the women’s pro course record set by Daniela Ryf in the same year.
“He told me it meant he knew exactly what I’d need to do!” Sodaro joked.
Not a surprise to win
As for the success in Hawaii, while the 33-year-old may not have been among the pre-race favourites, she didn’t surprise herself with the win.
“I had one of those magical days, which is really fortunate with it being my first time out here,” she explained.
“But although I’m a rookie at this race, I know the course and how the conditions feel and I just focused on myself and executing my plan and it came together for me.
“I came out here for the first two weeks of September to train the course and did some hard running so knew what it would feel like.
“I kept trying to slow down in the first 10km of the marathon. My coach told me to go out at 3:55 per km pace and I did not follow that direction very well!
“But I really trusted my training and when I could settle in and relax into a more sustainable rhythm I thought it would be fine because I’d put in a lot of work.”
Sodaro hails from a running background having run collegiately at UC Berkeley where she met her husband, Steve, a 3:59 miler. She didn’t turn to tri until after a disappointing Olympic trials in 2016.
“I was following triathlon as a fan and the American women were so strong,” she explained. “I was injured sitting on the couch and my husband said:’I think you’d be really good at triathlon.’
“I laughed but he got me a bike and we started riding together and I got obsessed like most of us can relate to.”
Top image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Ironman