No hurdle too high for new mom Lopes-Schliep

‘If you have a dream, go after it,’ says London 2012 hopeful

No hurdle too high for Olympic track star and new mom Lopes-Schliep
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep celebrates after winning bronze at the Beijing Games. (Photo: Metroland News)

Originally published in Canadian Running in 2012.

By Lindsey Craig

If – or when – Canadian track star Priscilla Lopes-Schliep takes her mark at the 2012 Olympics, she’ll have overcome one of her biggest hurdles yet – having a baby less than one year before the Games.

“Some people wondered if I was going to retire. But I’m very headstrong. I was just like, ‘Okay, what do I have to do [to still compete]?’” she said.

Lopes-Schliep gave birth to Nataliya in September 2011 – 10 months shy of the 100-metre hurdles event in London.

Many Canadians remember the 29-year-old Whitby, Ont.-native from her bronze medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Games.

That was when she was so excited, she jumped on the podium before officials called her up.

Since then, Lopes-Schliep claimed silver at the 2009 world championships, and in 2010, battled her way to no. 1 in the world.

‘A blessing’
While becoming pregnant put her on a slightly different track – for the hurdler and her husband, Bronsen Schliep, the news was a blessing.

“Some people don’t know, but I lost my right ovary in 2007,” she said, noting that it greatly reduced her chances of conceiving.

“I was like, ‘Oh my Gosh, I’m not going to be able have kids?’” she said. “And then when I found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic.”

Ecstatic – and determined to make both dreams come true.

After all, other athletes have shown it’s possible – including Canadian heptathlete Jessica Zelinka, who returned to competition after giving birth in 2009.

“If you have a dream, go after it, don’t let anyone tell that you can’t do something,” said Lopes-Schliep, who has followed a strict training routine and diet since giving birth.

Core focus
To re-sculpt her chiseled abs – a crucial component of clearing hurdles – core-strengthening, including plank exercises and knee tucks on a ball, have been key.

It all seems to be working.

In February of this year, at a Sherbrooke, Que., 60-metre hurdles final, the new mom laid down a time of 8.33 seconds – a time in synch with previous season-openers.

But perhaps more importantly, in an earlier heat, she ran 8.28 – the same time she put down in 2009, the same year she came second at the world championships.

“In terms of training, her weight, speed…she’s on point with everything,” said Dr. Durielle Bernard, who works with Lopes-Schliep at the Canadian Sports Centre of Ontario. “It shows how badly she wants to be there…The only thing that could stop her from being on that podium is her.”

‘We all push each other’
Still, to earn her ticket to London, Lopes-Schliep must first make the top three of a fierce Canadian field that includes multiple Olympic medal contenders.

Nikkita Holder, 24, of Pickering, Ont., who won the Sherbrooke event in 8.11 seconds, came sixth at the world championships and is ranked ninth in the world.

Phylicia George, 24, of Scarborough, Ont., came seventh in the world championships and is ranked 11th.

Then there’s Pickering’s Perdita Felicien, 31 – who tripped in Athens and missed Beijing due to injury. She’s a two-time world champion hungry for what might be her final shot at an Olympic medal.

“It’s awesome, we all push each other,” said Lopes-Schliep. “You have to work hard and train hard, especially because it’s the hurdles – you never know what’s going to happen.”

That may be true, but Lopes-Schliep has only one outcome in mind.

“All I think about is being on that podium,” she said.

Pausing to laugh at her premature podium climb in 2008, she adds, “If I could experience that spirit, that excitement again, after everything I’ve gone through, oh my gosh, I’ll have to learn how to do a back flip or something.”

The Canadian Olympic track and field trials will take place in Calgary on June 30, 2012.