There were 20 dads competing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and only one mom. That mom was 35-year-old Kikkan Randall, who—along with teammate Jessie Diggins—went on to win the United States’ first-ever gold medal in Olympic cross-country skiing. She trained intensely for this moment, her fifth and final Olympics, all while being a mom to her now 22-month-old son, Breck. She spoke with us after returning to the States to share parenting truths and explain how she struck this seemingly impossible balance.
How does it feel to be the only mom on Team USA?
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised. I’ve been around a bunch of other moms on the cross-country circuit from other teams, so I showed up thinking, Oh, rad. There’s going to be a bunch of moms on Team USA, and it was crazy to find out I was the only one. I think now having successfully been able to come back to competition and have my family with me on the road, it just feels like a normal thing. I would hope that there are some other athletes who at least know it’s possible and want to extend their careers, so I hope in the future we have more moms on Team USA.
How long were you away from your son for the Olympics?
We tried to make it work to have my son at the Olympics, but in the end, it just was logistically challenging, so I had a month away from him. I’ve been away from him for two weeks before, but a month was very daunting, and it’s been hard. I think it’s been harder for me than it has been for him because he’s been having a great time with his grandparents in Canada. We’ve been able to FaceTime every day, but I’m so excited to see him.
How did you adjust your training routine during your pregnancy?
I sat down with my coach, and we talked about how the goal was shifting to being in top physical shape for a race season to having a healthy baby and a healthy body. I let my body be the guide. I actually kept on a pretty normal training schedule through the first few months where I was training still 3-4 hours a day, two sessions a day. I was doing both my endurance training and some interval training. And then I still did a lot of strength work in the gym. I was pleasantly surprised with how good I felt through those first few months and how much training I was able to do. And then as I got closer to the due date, I scaled back both on the time and intensity, and the last month or so I was just doing one workout a day just to get out and move around.
Did missing a season of racing because of your pregnancy set you back? If so, how’d you overcome that?
That’s one of the tough things about being a mom is that you can’t race while you’re pregnant. The dads get to continue racing. It was hard to be away from the circuit, hard to be away from my team, hard to be away from my husband who works on the circuit and was over in Europe for a lot of that winter, but I was able to enjoy the sport from a different perspective. Knowing that I was training and knowing that I was coming back kept me motivated through that process. My son came in April, which is typically when we take our downtime anyway, so I really only started training a month later than I normally would have. It took some patience because I had to be really careful that I didn’t get into training too fast, but overall, I actually had this amazing strength and fitness that I carried through my pregnancy.
That seems like really good timing. How did you plan that?
Getting pregnant is never a guarantee, but strategically we did see that there was this gap year when there were no world championships, no Olympics, and if we could get pregnant that year, that would give me over a full year to get ready for the Olympics. I was a little bit anxious for a while about training at a super-high level and being able to get pregnant at the same time because I wasn’t sure if my body would find that balance, but I also couldn’t afford to not train because in case I wasn’t able to get pregnant, I wanted to be ready for the race season.
How long after giving birth did you start training again?
I was definitely anxious to get moving right away, so I started taking my son on walks around the block within a few days. I also wanted to be really careful with my progression back, to not rush into things, so I was able to get on a bike within two weeks and looked at that 6-week mark as the point when I would really start working my way back into training.
How did you balance training for the Olympics with the demands of being a new mom?
Support was key: My husband doesn’t work in the summer, so he was home with me every day, helping out a lot during the night, taking my son while I was going out to train. Of course, there were some things that he couldn’t do, so I was doing the breastfeeding and the pumping and all that. I was a little anxious about how much sleep I’d be getting because that’s a huge part of being able to recover in time for the next training session, but even though I was sleeping less, the quality of my sleep was so much higher, which I attribute to the happiness factor of being a mom. And then my parents were there, and my husband’s parents came when we started traveling. Everybody was pitching in, and I know for sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all that amazing support.
How did your mindset change from your first Olympics at 19 years old to competing now as a new mom?
They’re two totally unique experiences. My first Olympic Games, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was there getting to represent Team USA, walking into the opening ceremonies, and just thinking about the possibilities that could happen in the sport. Then fast forward to now, and while I’m very competitive and I’m working hard on these athletic goals, my son has shown me that the most important part is how you approach it, the effort you give, and that no matter what at the end of the day I get to come home to a little boy who’s happy to see me whether I win or lose, and that’s really freed me from some of the pressure and expectation to just really go out there and love what I’m doing and give it my best.
Tell us about one parenting gold-medal moment.
There’s been a couple of times where I’ve had a big travel day, and I’ve got a lot of gear with me and I’ve got my son, and we’re trying to make it through airports and trains and buses, and at times it’s tested the limits, literally, of my physical strength to be able to handle all that and keep an even head through it all. Thankfully, there’s only been a few of those moments, but I’m just continually amazed at this strength and ability to really perform when it counts as a mom.
What’s next for you?
What I’m so excited about going forward, as my competitive career is winding down, is my chance to really switch my focus to my family. I get to do some fun work with companies like L.L. Bean, where we are out testing kids’ clothes through our active lifestyle. I’m looking forward to opportunities where I can share the message to all parents out there that you can be active, you can do it as a family, and we can all share experiences and work together.