Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the 2021 Olympics with a specific emphasis on health and wellness.
July 23, 2021 – While thousands of athletes now compete in the Tokyo Olympics challenged by COVID-19, about a dozen representing Team USA have another distinction: They are moms.
From American soccer star Alex Morgan to American basketball player Skylar Diggins-Smith, these women have reached the peak of their careers by qualifying for this ultimate athletic event.
One of the biggest stars of the dozen, Foluke Gunderson, a member of the women’s volleyball team and mother of Olukayode Ayodele, born in 2019, chatted with us just days before heading to Tokyo to attend the Games.
While this is her third time participating in the Olympics, this is her first time as a mother. Read on as Gunderson shares a behind-the-scenes look at his training program, more on “mom juggling” and his dream of the team winning its first gold medal.
How do you feel right now with the Games just around the corner?
“I am very excited for what is to come. Our team has worked a lot both on and off the court. We use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grow closer as a team with our Zoom calls and our monthly meetings. At the time, it didn’t seem like much was being done, but it all came together this summer: getting to know each other, being on the same mission, and ultimately altruism, changed our team culture.
These Games must feel different now that you are a mom. What do you like to do the most with your child?
“She loves going to the park and her love language is reading books, which is why she loves story time. In May, I went to a 5 week tournament. When I returned, his language had grown a lot. He would wave and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ I think it is important to share that it is easy to define yourself by what happens on the court when, in reality, we are much more than volleyball players. I love coming home and letting go and pouring my love on him. I will be doing a lot of FaceTimes from Tokyo! “
How does it feel to train for the Olympics?
“I will use today as an example. We start at 8:30 am, wake up for an hour and a half, and then practice for about 3 hours. Then we had meetings afterwards. We normally lift weights three times a week. Yesterday we started the day at 7 in the morning, so the schedule varies from day to day, but it is always intense. “
What do you always do to take care of yourself?
“One thing I always do is hydrate myself. So, I need a quiet moment for myself. Even if it’s 10-15 minutes, that kind of self-care and taking a little time for myself allows me to be good for everyone else. When I don’t have that downtime, I feel overwhelmed. “
Being an elite athlete is hard enough. Being a mother makes for a real juggling act. How to make it work?
“I think there is no way to do what we do as moms and athletes without a support system. My husband is my rock.” There is no way I could do this without him. When I’m traveling, in practice, he takes care of our son (and also gets his MBA). For this to work, you have to have a tribe behind you. “
You have had an incredible career. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams?
“I always suggest setting small goals. It is difficult to look at something so far into the distance or the great task at hand. Instead, I like to divide a goal into the step-by-step things I need to do to achieve that goal. Ultimately, it’s that belief and the idea that if you set your mind to something, you can’t let anything get in your way. Dreams require sacrifice, hard work, and belief in yourself. “