The Runner's Resilience: Women Overcoming Injury, Illness, and Pregnancy, featuring A.K. Whittaker #Momthlete
Welcome to our second installment of "The Runner's Resilience: Women overcoming injury, illness, and pregnancy". In this series, we aim to inspire, inform, and motivate by highlighting the stories of female athletes who have triumphed over various hurdles to return to their beloved sport of running.
In our second spotlight, we illuminate the resilient journey of A.K. Whittaker, a Boise runner and Coach, whose narrative artfully intertwines the realms of competitive racing and the profound transitions of personal life. A.K. doesn’t just run; she traverses through various life chapters with an admirable blend of grit and grace, weaving a tapestry that encompasses marathon majors, the delicate steps of motherhood, and navigating through personal evolutions. Her story unfolds not merely as a chronicle of an athlete but as a deeply human narrative that explores strength, perseverance, and an unyielding spirit even amidst life’s most unanticipated challenges.
Chapter 1: The Height Of My Running Journey
Before the world got to know Covid-19, I was a familiar face in the running community, always racing towards the podium, frequently clinching positions among the top 3 females at every race. Not only a runner, in 2019, I also seized the Age Group 1st Place at a Spartan race, earned a 3rd place in my age group at the Race to Robie Creek, and successfully completed two 70.3 IRONMAN triathlons in the previous two years. With countless podium finishes under my belt and sponsorships from various local and semi-national companies, I was more than an athlete; I was a beacon of positivity and encouragement in the community. My sponsorships, interestingly, were not solely anchored in my performance but were also inspired by my "story", my knack for creating uplifting community relationships, and sparking love for fitness and wellness. My weekends were a marathon of races - literally. Yet, each race was not just about winning; my motto as an elite athlete was to always take the time to encourage, smile at, and high five other runners.
Chapter 2: A Multifaceted Fitness Expert
Being a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and USAW Level Two Olympic Lifting Coach, I wasn’t only pounding the pavement but also lifting, teaching, and embodying the true spirit of a seasoned fitness expert across various disciplines. When the pandemic struck, my resilience didn’t waver. I strove to be a sturdy, safe influence, demonstrating that public exercise could be safely conducted with adequate precautions, even teaching group exercise at the YMCA behind PVC barriers and masked.
Chapter 3: Adapting to Life's Unpredictable Course
In the post-Covid era, my journey unfolded in unforeseen directions. My 2019 Chicago Marathon qualification, initially deferred due to pandemic-induced upheavals, was further postponed amidst a myriad of personal and professional upheavals, and the surprising arrival of my pregnancy in 2022, thereby pressing pause on my running career. Embracing motherhood, particularly while navigating through the various other personal transformations and disruptions encountered, brought forth its own unique and complex emotional landscape. By the time 2023 arrived, I welcomed my son, Greyson, into the world. This journey, although overshadowed by indescribable love for him, still imposed substantial physical and emotional demands upon me.
Chapter 4: Prenatal Fitness and Unexpected Challenges
However pregnancy was not a pause button for my fitness regime. I plunged into workouts 5-6 times a week, engaged in Olympic-style barbell lifting, taught two core classes per week till 32 weeks into my pregnancy, and even ran a St. Patty’s 5K at six months pregnant, placing in my Age Group. However, after birth, my body didn’t bounce back as I had envisioned. Physically sturdy, yet emotionally fractured, I navigated postpartum with tenacity. Weight gain and body changes were challenging but nourishing Greyson was my topmost priority. Walking him 3-5 times a week, I found moments of emotional respite and a reservoir of love in his and my 11-year-old, Seanathan's eyes.
Chapter 5: The Road Back to Myself
Contrary to my expectations, postpartum recovery was a struggle, both physically and emotionally. It disrupted my return to fitness teaching and altered my self-perception. My professional setback was coupled with navigating the emotional fallout from my previous relationship and transitioning into new motherhood again amidst these challenges. Upon returning to work, my physical capabilities were not what they used to be. It was a slow journey back to teaching five classes per week, a feat finally achieved ten months postpartum. It took consistent, dedicated pelvic and core strength work, and unwavering mental determination to regain my pre-pregnancy fitness level.
Chapter 6: Running Towards Healing
In a life-altering meeting five months postpartum, Alex, the owner of Fleet Feet, inspired me to emerge from my state of despair, rekindling the dormant ember of 'AK, the athlete'. The commitment to transcend my depression solidified in that moment, gradually healing my emotional fractures. Running, my spiritual and emotional outlet, brought a resurgence of strength with every stride. 17 months postpartum, I stand on the precipice of the Chicago marathon, embodying the spirit of a #Momthlete. Training for a marathon postpartum has been a blend of jogging stroller miles, intentional resistance band work, consistent core strengthening, and a whole lot of love and grace for my evolving body.
My current sponsorship through Fleet Feet Meridian, tagged as a #Momthlete, mirrors my transition from an elite runner to an embracing, loving mother-runner. This journey has necessitated letting go, for now, of the competitive athlete I was and cherishing this present chapter of life. Concluding this chapter, I extend this advice to other postpartum mothers: Permit your body the grace of recovery. The time it took to create life should be afforded back for healing and restoration. Embrace your body that bore and nourished your child and cherish every step of this beautiful journey.