Athlete-Mom Interview: Cindy Spence

Meet Cindy Spence from Calgary, Alberta, where she lives with her husband Ryan, and two very active daughters, Emma (11 years) and Kate (8 years). I met Cindy through the mountain biking and Xterra scene while living in Calgary. Cindy always has a smile on her face and has an energy and excitement for life that is contagious. I am so excited to share this interview as I think she shares some amazing insights, wisdom and advice on balancing her full-time job, staying active and competitive (while being a great role model for her daughters!), spending quality time with her family and encouraging her daughters in their athletic pursuits. You will also find a link to Cindy’s great blog below.

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1. What was your life athletically (or otherwise) and how has it evolved before and between each of your daughters births, and as they’ve grown?

I was always active, I loved to ride my bike and run when growing up through elementary school, got serious about playing basketball and running track in high school and continued to play basketball at university. I remained active through university, and moved to outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and mountain biking after graduation. In fact, we moved to Calgary because of the active lifestyle and access to mountain exploits, like hiking and mountain biking in summer, skiing in winter.

Prior to Emma, I was “fit,” and between uni and Emma, I was involved with recreational teams (beach volleyball with friends, Ultimate frisbee) and outdoor pursuits with The Husband (Ryan). I commuted on a big, heavy old mountain bike to work. Nothing formal or structured, no racing per se.

My pregnancy with Emma was challenging: I gained a lot of weight and encountered some complications (the same thing happened while pregnant with Kate). So postpartum, I was anxious to not just fit into my clothes again, I also wanted to look good in them – it sounds vain, but that was my initial push. I made a small goal, and I enrolled in a local triathlon. It got me off the couch and was a great way to add intensity to the hiking and skiing and biking we tried to do as a family. Family activities were more “social” and low-intensity. I discovered that I loved the intensity of triathlon, and sought the help of a coach. I was also acutely aware of setting an example for my curious daughter. I wanted her to see a healthy, happy mom who was capable of chasing her across the yard, down the street, and all the way to the park – every day! I wanted her to see a healthy, fit mom whose lifestyle was sustainable and strong.

I stayed on the local triathlon age-group circuit for 2 years, and then came Kate! After Kate was born, I was hungry to start training again. This time my motivation was different. Yes, I wanted to return to an athletic “look,” and I wanted to set the example for my girls, but I was also conscious of the aging process. My family has some crazy genes in it, I was determined to be healthy and stay that way, I wanted to continue to be healthy for many years to come and beat the genetic odds. My Mom was afflicted by several degenerative diseases, some of them with genetic tendencies, and she passed away this year at the age of 67. I often reflected on her life at my age, and I vowed to do everything in my control to beat the odds.

So I returned to triathlon and made a multi-year plan: my next goal was Ironman Canada. In 2011 I raced IMC in Penticton. It taught me about mental toughness, it taught me about discipline, it taught me about pain. Training for an event like this requires extensive time away from the family. I also have a full-time job (Client Rep for Oil&Gas IT Services at IBM), so I had to find ways to balance and juggle all the spinning plates that come with family, training, and working. My LinkedIn profile and resume now includes an “Accomplishments” section, where one sentence reads: Trained for and competed at XTerra World Championships in 2014 and 2013, and Ironman Canada 2011 while working full-time, raising two daughters, and being a charming wife. The “charming wife” may be a bit tongue-in-cheek – but we are a happier and stronger family for it!

After Ironman, I went back to my mountain bike, I have always loved to ride. I got deeply involved with a Calgary-based women’s only club, Spin Sisters (www.spinsisters.ca), where I spent 3 years as President (I’ve been a member for 8 years). I loved the interaction with other athletic women who dabbled in racing and who genuinely wanted to keep advancing their skills on a mountain bike. The club seeks to inspire riders of all levels to take the next step, to keep riding. I strongly believe in promoting women in sport, that we need to continue to develop female leaders in sport throughout their active lives, it helps them in many areas of life and it provides younger girls with role models, examples, and heroes to model their lives around, whether consciously or not, at all stages of life.

I also crossed over to the world of XTerra racing, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Details can be found in my blog: http://graphixdivasblog.blogspot.ca/ . In short, I have been honoured to race at the XTerra World Championships twice, and each time it was a significant life experience for me.

I have always included my girls in athletic endeavours, whether they were riding in the Chariot while I ran or biked; whether they rode high on their perch in a backpack carrier across Scotland or through the Rockies, or whether they came with us to the mountain for ski days, we have tried to instill the notion that an active, athletic lifestyle is the status quo. They have always come to my races, they are my biggest cheering squad and love to cross the finish line with me. Now that my girls are reaching the ages of 11 and 8, they are starting to understand the social and personal-satisfaction benefits of an active lifestyle. They participate in local races. They ride bikes in a neighbourhood gang and are active in some local clubs. I can take them with me for a ride on the trails, and they can climb like crazy, their technical skills already surpass mine, they just don’t know it yet! I’ve got some wicked memories pics of my girls riding and racing, I am in awe of their near-perfect technique, their focus, their smiles.

I see Emma’s friends dropping out of sports (age 11) and I worry that my girls will follow. I try to create an environment where they see my female friends, my peers, active and happy both in racing and in social athletics. I try to provide them with examples of role models and heroes across the sports that interest them, women like Danelle Kabush, Tatum Monod, Cindy Klassen, and others. I try to provide them with support for activities that interest them and keep those activities FUN. I try to include their friends, I often pile 4 giggling girls and their bikes into the back of the pickup, and head to COP where we might only ride one lap of the park, but we work on simple skills on the bike, and the girls get to laugh and shriek and ride together. My goal is to nurture them carefully and provide them with exposure to athletics and an active life.

Sport has always been in my life. I speak about it in my professional life, as I believe it has informed a lot of my habits: perseverance, mental strength, being a team leader or team member, discipline and more.

I also believe that sport and athletics make me a better person; the off-season makes me “itchy” and I find that I cannot last more than 2-3 weeks of unstructured non-athletic activity. I find a good workout will give me head space to solve lurking questions in both professional and personal life. I can hit the pool for an hour, count laps and sort out the structure of a looming presentation, I can hop on the trails along the river and run (never with headphones, I like to hear my own thoughts) and sort out the family calendar for the upcoming week, create a mental grocery list, and, when I’m all done, my sunny disposition has returned.

2. What motivated (or continues to inspire) you to get training and racing? And/or has this evolved through different stages with your daughters ages?

My motivation to return to an active lifestyle after the birth of my daughters came from three places: First, I wanted a “goal” to achieve, something to look forward to, something to train for. I chose a local triathlon. I also wanted to set a healthy example for my kids, to return to an outdoor lifestyle for our family and be a healthy Mom that could chase her kids, this was important to me. And finally, I have watched many members of my family fall prey to illness whether from genetic factors, inactivity or illness, and I am bound and determined to beat those odds.

As I have (gracefully?) aged, I am more focused, more motivated, and more determined to first and foremost set the example for my girls. In order to stay involved in their lives so that I can see them grow into adults and beyond, I need to be healthy. Athletics is one contributing factor.

It’s not just about the racing – I also genuinely enjoy the journey to race-day. I always view race-day as a celebration of the work that has gone into preparing for it, my ideal race-day will be a tough day, but it will be the result of my training. I love the thrill of competing, it suits my personality, and the extra effort to find the edge of my limits, to keep pushing that limit and exploring the nuances of it is what keeps me toeing the line. I’m not a pro athlete, I’m rarely on the age-group podium – but I love being out there, racing against my limits and, lately, like good wine, getting better with age!

3. Did you “train” during your pregnancies? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mother?

Yes, while pregnant I tried to stay active – hiking, walking, and so on. But some complications arose, I gained a LOT of weight (close to 60 lbs) with both babies, and found walking painful and ultimately dangerous. So I turned to swimming. I swam for the final 4 months of both pregnancies, a consistent, even paced swim, 4 or 5 times a week, I remember the relief of the water for my joints, and I believe it helped to build strength for birth and beyond. Immediately following both girls, I started with walking and swimming, built back into running and cycling, then got motivated to race again.

4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2015?

After Ironman in 2011, I planned to return to mountain biking. In 2012, while pre-riding a course, I had a freak accident and broke my humerus, which out me out for the season.

In 2013, I focused on XTerra, where I qualified for the XTerra World Championships. I was honoured to qualify and return to Maui for XTerra World Championships in 2014, where I bettered my performance.

Cindy exiting the water at the Xterra World Championships

Cindy exiting the water at the Xterra World Championships

I’m still passionate about triathlon, and I will certainly continue to race both road and off-road tri’s, but my mountain bike has been calling to me. I plan to focus on mountain biking for the next couple of years, and plan to kick it off with a bang.In 2015, both The Husband and I are registered for BC Bike Race, a 7-day stage race in British Columbia. I’m excited and a bundle of nerves at the same time!

I’ve also gotten involved with the Calgary Women’s Masters Basketball League this season – my skills are rusty, but I’m energized by playing team sports again – with a full roster of skilled women across 8 teams!

And I am looking forward to a winter filled with skiing: downhill and alpine touring. We have some big trips planned, the girls have started to ski backcountry with us and are in search of the pow for 2015.

I’m also thrilled that my daughters share my excitement for sport. Both girls can shred on skis and on wheels, the only reason I’m ahead of them on trails is because I have mass and gravity on my side! They are both in ski and mtb clubs and love the social element – meeting friends who love to do the same things they do. Now I’m looking at ways to ensure there are appropriate avenues available to them as girls, making sure they have opportunities that nurture their interests and passions.

small spence family mckerrell_photo_june 18, 2013 050 (1)

5. How do you balance family/work demands and interests etc with your athletic goals? 

First and foremost, I have an amazing Husband. He is my partner in so many ways, his support is unwavering, and his commitment to a healthy lifestyle for our family is all-in. Sure, he grumbles about multiple, consecutive, large-volume weeks, sure we “debate” which races (and how many) to participate in each year. But he’s out there with me, making sure we find ways to turn a training day into a family day: we take shifts on the trails with our mountain bikes, we start early or finish late, reward the family with a trip to the lake or beach while the other gets in a long or hard workout.

I also gave up unnecessary things: we cancelled our cable service because we simply weren’t watching it. I’m not afraid to get up at 5am for a swim or to spin before hustling the girls off to school, because I get to bed early. I’m not afraid to call in the babysitter so that, when The Husband is traveling, I can go do a hill repeat workout. When I travel, I pack running shoes and explore new cities and work on speed on a treadmill if it’s too dark. There is more than enough time in a day, you just need to organize it.

We find ways to turn “races” in “race-cations”. We continue to train while on holidays by bringing wetsuits and bikes everywhere.

We (almost) always bring kids to the Finish Line.

We support each other’s goals, and take turns having an “A” season or training camp. I support his athletic dreams and he supports mine. It took a lot of encouraging from me for him to get into the race scene, he was so busy supporting my dreams that he forgot to include his own. Now that he is actively racing (mostly running), I find that we are mutually better at supporting each other.

It all boils down to respect and communication.

6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and continuing to train/compete with children?

Be patient with yourself – you have plenty of time to enjoy your kids AND be an athlete.

Be kind to yourself.
Remember: you are stronger than you think, mentally and physically. Don’t be afraid of limits, go find them, then respect them.
Living in Calgary and very near to the Rocky Mountain, makes for an amazing place to play!

Living in Calgary and very near to the Rocky Mountain, makes for an amazing place to play!

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