While doing research for the book I am co-authoring, “Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom,” I had the pleasure of interviewing two moms--both with special needs children--who moved me in such a way that I knew I needed to share what I learned from them with Mama Sweat readers. Here's Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two on Thursday.
What if your child needed you to be fit? What if your child's confidence in you as a parent depended on your strength?
That's what it's like for Rachel Coleman. Rachel, 35, is the mom of two: Leah, 13, who was born deaf, and Lucy, 10, who was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Rachel also developed a series of videos called “Signing Time,” that teaches children (and adults) American Sign Language in a fun, entertaining and engaging way.
Just a few years ago, Rachel says, she was 40 pounds heavier. Like many moms--whether their children have special needs or not--Rachel’s sole focus was caring for her daughters so (in her mind) her daughters could live their best life. What she came to realize, however, was that those two things weren’t compatible. “The best gift I can give to Lucy is to be super strong and really fit,” Rachel says, recalling the many instances when carrying Lucy from her chair to her bed or getting her out of the tub was tenuous, at best.
Now Rachel and her husband, Aaron, have shaped up and recently finished a half-marathon with both daughters. (They all finished in 2:10, which I think is super impressive for a 13-year-old. But Leah also won her school's spelling bee a few years ago, so she is no stranger to awesomeness.) Take a peek at this news story that profiles the Coleman's race. And there's more about the Coleman’s experience training and racing on Rachel’s blog.
But they’re not stopping there, Rachel and Aaron are training for their first triathlon in July. Rachel tells me that’s just the means to a different end:
“The races aren't really what we train for. We train for the races so that we are in great condition to do the most important things... like hiking to waterfalls with Lucy on our back; Camping in Yellowstone and hiking trails covered in wild flowers; Playing hide and seek in Goblin Valley; Hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. None of those things are accessible to a child in a wheelchair. If we weren't strong enough, Lucy wouldn't get to witness the beauty first-hand. Instead there would just be a long list of things she can't see and places she can't go. I don't know how long Aaron and I will be able to carry Lucy this way. Every year she gets bigger and taller. All I know is we will do it as long as it's physically possible and probably a little longer than that. I mean, even right now there are people who tell us that certain hikes are impossible to accomplish carrying a 10 year-old on our backs... but those people are wrong. We've already done those hikes.”
Think about that for a moment, fellow moms... what if the mama sweat in your life was necessary to do the physical work of parenting and giving your child access to a world he or she would otherwise never experience?
We’ve all heard it or said it: When I take care of myself I’m a better mom. But I’ve always thought of that statement applying to the mental aspect of mothering. Rachel has made me realize that my workouts improve my capacity to do the physical work of being a mom, even if that work isn’t necessary to accomplish tasks of daily living like it is for her. Fit moms, by default, are physically capable of doing more for their kids and therefore have more opportunities to engage with them.
That's a benefit of fitness I've overlooked until now, but now realize how this benefit is pervasive in my parenting. If I were not fit I would not have been able to carry a kicking-and-screaming Kindergartner onto her bus on Friday (without seriously hurting myself). If I were not fit I would not have enjoyed a one-on-one bike ride/run with each of my daughters this morning.
Thanks for your inspiration Rachel and this new perspective!