Athlete-mom interview: Alison Archambault

Meet Alison Archambault, of beautiful Bragg Creek, Alberta. My good friend Richelle Love introduced me to her online. I will let Richelle’s words introduce this athlete-mom. I love Alison’s story, her approach, perspectives and her wise advice:

There is the most amazing athlete mom I know! Her name is Alison. She is a single mom who’s daughter does a tonne of extra curricular activities and she is always there with and for her daughter AND she works full time and then some, is a volunteer firefighter and she trains dogs to be companions for those with special needs! All with gratitude, a smile and an awesome sense of humour. I literally don’t know how she does it all. She is just amazing. I do know that she has fallen asleep on her trainer before….. You would love her D!

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What was your life like athletically (or otherwise) and how has it evolved since becoming a mother? 

I have always been active as a runner and a swimmer.  After my daughter was born (Mackaela, now 11), I suffered from postpartum and was really looking for something that was “mine” because the new titles I had like “Mom”, “working Mom” etc were heavy!  My daughter was almost a year old, the baby weight was still there and I was feeling the farthest thing from myself, when I heard an advertisement on the radio when driving to work one day for a women’s triathlon (Strathmore Women’s Triathlon).  I figured since I already ran and swam, how hard could it be to add in a little bike ride?  Famous last words!  The race didn’t come together at all well, but I was hooked!

My athletic life has ramped up considerably since Mackaela joined my family.

My long-time partner was a military veteran.  He was impacted by PTSD and mental wellness issues.  While we were still together, I knew it was important for me to have a stress release from the heavy, dark blanket of sadness that began increasing cover our home – triathlon training definitely did that.   As the stress and sadness at home increased, I trained more and more.  Training and doing triathlons helped me develop the mental strength and clarity to make important decisions about my daughter and my physical safety and emotional well-being.  It kept me grounded.  As a single parent, and especially as my daughter gets older and navigates our body-conscious world, physical wellness has become even more important to me as part of setting a healthy example for my daughter, as well as making sure I have time to myself to re-group before I have to go home to my beautiful pre-teen (and all the challenges and joys of that life stage!).

Did you train during pregnancy? If so please describe.

I continued to train for long distance running races and swimming races throughout my pregnancy until shortly before my daughter’s birth – I honestly think my body would have revolted if I stopped doing something it had been doing for 20 years!   I was fortunate that my OB was a long distance runner herself and a tremendous advocate for “keep doing it”.  Physical activity wasn’t always comfortable as my body changed, but it helped me feel as normal as possible during pregnancy.  I did the Kananaskis 100 mile relay 3 weeks before my daughter was born….I’m pretty sure that’s what helped her make the decision to enter the world a bit early!

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What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing? How has your athletic life evolved or change throughout motherhood so far? 

My daughter and our active lifestyle inspire me to train, and keep training, because I want to be able to stay active and keeping up to my daughter for a long time to come.  We live in Bragg Creek and spend everyday hiking to the top of mountains and exploring.  I don’t have an atypical triathlete’s physique, but my athletic dreams and passions aren’t defined by that.   It’s important for me to set a good example for my daughter, her friends and other women about what is achievable when you set your mind to it.   My daughter comes to all my triathlons, and volunteers at countless events to support others achieving their goals and cheers her heart out.  I’m not sure I ever appreciated how much my commitment to physical fitness would create a space of empathy and encouragement in her to support others in their achievements.

My athletic life hasn’t changed much since my daughter arrived, what has changed is how I approach training and what I’m training for.  As her primary caregiver for most of my daughter’s life, like so many other athletic moms I’ve had to juggle training around family and work demands.  I have a high demand executive-level job, life on my acreage requires a lot of work and in my spare time, I’m a volunteer firefighter/medic and train service dogs.  I’ve got a lot on the go, and those passions take time away from training and family.  When my daughter was younger, I would run the highway and  driveway up to our acreage in 15 minute increments so I could check on her, or have her sit in a lawn chair and count my hill reps.  Sometimes I combine my run in the evenings on a mountain trail with her riding her bike and the dogs running alongside me.  She used to practice counting for math class by counting laps at the pool while I trained.  My coach also lets my daughter join into club training swim nights so I don’t have to make the choice between “Mom’ing” and training.  I always carry my cell phone with me to train, on days when she’s feeling a bit clingy, she calls me to chat.  Sometimes we chat for 20 minutes of an hour-long bike ride.

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Regardless of the size of my fitness goal, I’ve learned the importance of having a ‘community’ of like-minded people as part of my support network.   Rose and Richelle at Tri It Multisport were instrumental not only in outfitting me in pretty and functional gear to help me achieve my goals, they have also encouraged me endlessly and introduced me to the Triathlete Within Club to ensure I had people to train with safely in, and off, season – many of whom have become some of my closest friends.  The club has members from all walks of life and all fitness goals, but the coaches really unite everyone behind positive attitudes, safety, sportsmanship and the notion that there’s room for everyone’s goals and dreams always.   This year, I invested in a coaching relationship with Coach Chris Lough to help me achieve my wild-assed goals.  Words don’t describe the peace of mind and joy I feel from having him believe in me and my goal (on hard days I feel like he might be the only one of us that does!), but as importantly, hold me accountable to the training & commitment required to achieve my goals.

My daughter decided to do her first triathlon last summer.  I helped her train and prepare for her race and then took a front row seat on course cheering my face off.  She joined Kronos Triathlon Club this year and I’ve had the privilege of watching her continue to develop a positive relationship with her body, its strength and power through sport.  I’ve watched her question her abilities to achieve her dream and then overcome the anxiety to have a great race day.  I’ve seen her develop resilience when the race doesn’t go “as planned” and always show tremendous gratitude for volunteers who make dream days possible.  I’ve watch her learn to defend “why” being active is important to her to her peers.  This all may have happened with a sedentary Mom, but I don’t believe so.

What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2016?

To date, I have competed in 6 half-iron distances and countless long distance running races. My wild-assed goal for 2016 is to complete Ironman Kentucky and I have a few lead up races like IM YYC, Blitz Duathlon and the Wildrose Triathlon to keep it real.

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

I don’t buy into the concept of balance.  There’s only so many hours in the day and inevitably there’s some things that are going to get more or less of your attention at any given point in time because they need to.   You can constantly chide yourself for not being somewhere other than you are, but that doesn’t fix anything.

My daughter is the most important person in my world and she knows she’s  my #1 priority.  I am best able to be her parent and co-adventurer when I’m physically fit and emotionally healthy.  There are lots of things I’m passionate about in my life.  Creating a weekly schedule helps a lot to make sure everything/everyone gets what they need – mostly.  But, I won’t sugarcoat it…. there are times after a week full of work and supporting my princess’ life that I leave for a scheduled training run sobbing,  get in the pool with a knot in my stomach or hop on my bike after kid bedtime so late that its dark and a bit unsafe to be training so late, all the while questioning if I’m spending my time in the right places.  You just do the best you can each day and try harder tomorrow.

My coach works hard to plan training around family, work and personal commitments. My runs often take place at 4:30am and training rides often aren’t done until 9pm.  Life lesson…when the RCMP pull you over and offer to drive you & your bike home because its getting dark out – you left your ride too late after chores and homework!

Several of my Mom friends offer playdate on Big Training Days so I can get 6+ hours of training in an my daughter is still having fun.  My Triathlete Within pals and I frequently rearrange our schedules so we can train together and hold each other company – misery loves company.

Fortunately, my daughter is usually kinder to me than I am to myself, and that’s an important lesson to learn. I came in from an early morning run not too long ago, my daughter was awake watching TV before school and I apologized for not being there when she woke up.  Her reply back sticks with me:

“It’s okay, Mom.  You’ve got big dreams.  If strong girls don’t show me and my friends that we can do triathlons, how will we know how big we can dream?”

Being creative on how I get my training in helps and keeping things in perspective, is important.  A few weeks ago, I had a training ride scheduled on a Thursday evening and my daughter begged me to let her ride with me.  My inside voice was frustrated as I needed to get my ride in but Mom duties ALWAYS come first.  An hour later, after she braved her first highway ride, I reflected on how inspired I was by her and how joyful I was about the evening we had.  If I wasn’t physically active I wouldn’t have had that amazing experience. I hadn’t been flexible with the plan for the night, I would have missed out on making memories with my girl.  Finding my joy while training and racing is always a priority!

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

Just start.

Be kind to yourself – you will always be harder on yourself than you family will.

Be brave – set big goals and don’t apologize for them.

Sign up for races in your desired sport – the energy is contagious and having community is awesome.

Bring your kids with you to races

Make sure your heart and head are where your feet are – get a good training run in, then go home and be a great Mom.

If you’re feeling super stressed about leaving your kids to go train, trust your instincts: grab a little one close and skip training for the day once in a while.

Be creative in how you train – include your kids when you can.

(Try to) Drop the Mommy guilt.

Offer an encouraging word when you see another woman out training.  A little ‘darn you look strong’, goes a long way to quelling someone else’s Mommy guilt and could in turn remind you, it’s ok to do it too!

Find your joy – do physical activities that make you happy.

Find a support network of pals to train with.

Offer to look after someone’s children so they can get away to train – it’s a priceless gift with amazing karma

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