The race to the Collins Cup is hard but exciting for any elite triathlete, for Chelsea Sodaro you can multiply that many times over.
The 32-year-old American has spent the last year of her life not competing at the highest level, but preparing for and adjusting to motherhood. Her daughter Skylar duly arrived on March 16, 2021.
Chelsea has not raced since 2019, but the Professional Triathletes Organisation’s ground-breaking maternity policy allowed her to retain her ranking position – and with it a chance of making the cut for Šamorín in August.
Sodaro has charted her journey through recent months by appearing in a new PTO documentary series ‘Greater Than One‘, from childbirth to hopefully a Collins Cup berth for Team USA.
Collins Cup target
As Skylar’s due date approached, Chelsea already had in her mind what her plans would be for the latter part of 2021. She was planning a training schedule to give her the best opportunity to qualify for the the big show in Slovakia in August.
“My initial focus is obviously to be with my daughter for the first few months, but from a career standpoint, will be the Collins Cup,” she explained.
“It’s definitely an ambitious goal, and I know that, I was just thinking in my head today If I give birth on my due date, I’ll have May, June and July to get fit and then hopefully race one time before the Collins Cup.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I can’t think of a more motivating goal to have on the calendar – I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
The stigma of motherhood
Alysia Montaño, a double-World Championship bronze medalist and former UC Berkley alumni like Chelsea, spoke with her former teammate during the documentary about the stigma of becoming a mother and competing.
Back in 2014, Alysia competed at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship while eight months pregnant, before returning a year later to take gold – her sixth triumph at the event in the 800m.
“I’m thinking about how long I want my career to be – I wanted to break all those ridiculous stereotypes that are placed on women of how long my career is going to last,” she explained in a video call during the second episode of the documentary series.
“We have all these men who have these very long, robust, careers where they just keep climbing and climbing and breaking all these barriers which is so exciting to watch.
“Then when we watch our women it’s like ‘oh, she’s getting married, it’s over after this’. ‘Oh, she’s having kids, it’s over’. I am like ‘do you guys hear yourselves?’”
Chelsea is hoping to emulate Alysia’s success after returning from childbirth, and she believes that not only will she return to form, she will also return even stronger.
“I don’t like to call it a comeback, I’m trying to think of it as more of a return to racing. I’m not trying to be like what I was before, but actually reinventing myself to better than I have ever been before,” she said.
One man who has no doubts about this is Chelsea’s father Peter. He said: “I’m pretty convinced she is going to be a better athlete on her return. I think she is going to be stronger to be honest. She knows the value of resiliency – baby falls down, baby needs to pick themselves up.”
Setbacks and triumphs
If anything is guaranteed with the birth of a child, it is that your whole world turns upside down. Routine changes, and not everything goes to plan – that was absolutely the case for Chelsea.
“I’m trying to reconcile giving up breastfeeding, which is hard and sad, but like the most important thing is that she is healthy,” a teary Chelseasaid in a heartfelt message as she took her daughter to see a doctor.
“I feel a little heartbroken, it’s not the whole experience I wanted for her or me.”
The physical challenge of childbirth, plus the sleepless nights and routine changes which follow, take their toll on an individual. At times they made Sodaro question her ambitions for the future.
“It feels really hard today, I am so tired, and my body feels kind of beat up, I just feel very intimidated by my goals at the moment,” she said during one training session.
“It’s crazy like how one day I feel proud about the progress I am making then today feels s****y – progress is not linear in sport or really much of anything else.”
From the ambition of making the Collins Cup to getting several hours interrupted sleep – sometimes in these moments it is important to take the small wins.
“My perspective of what a good night’s sleep is has totally changed – pre-baby if I’d only got six hours, I would have been a hot mess, today I feel amazing,” joked Chelsea.
“If I am ever able to get 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep ever again, I’m going to be f*****g superwoman.”
Sodaro’s road to Šamorin
Chelsea’s coach Dan Plews gave a thorough explanation of what her training regime currently entails, as well as his thoughts on her Collins Cup ambitions.
“At the moment we are in the train-to-train phase, we are really just getting Chelsea to a position where she is able to train and tolerate a reasonable training load.
“Realistically for her to be able to train and race effectively we need her to be able to tolerate a good amount of training load – a good amount of volume – and that’s definitely going to be in excess of 20 hours a week.
“As long as Chelsea can get there and stay healthy and stay stress free – if we can get all those things in place and she is training well – I definitely think she’ll be where she needs to be.”
Throughout the pregnancy, Chelsea watched events like the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA with great interest – although she did admit that she had tried to switch off during her hiatus.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier for me to switch off and check out – in fact the opposite has been true, how edgy I felt watching Daytona, that’s not going away.
“Motherhood isn’t going to change that part of me, I think there is fear with women like, what is this going to do my psyche? Am I going to still be the same me when I come back from this?
“You know I have this really ambitious goal, to qualify for one of our sport’s greatest team competitions the Collins Cup and I have been getting a lot of questions like: Why would you want to do that? Why do you think you can do that?
“People are just satisfied by getting by on scraps, rather than having bigger ambitions, bigger vision for what is possible.
“I’m definitely not nailing it and I have a lot of work to do across a number of different things, but why wouldn’t I want to beat Daniela Ryf, why would I do this if I don’t think I can contend with an Annie Haug?
“Do I think the other athletes will doubt me and my return to racing? I can honestly say I don’t care.”