by Joanna Rieber
As one of the few open female national level lifters in Canada with children, I am often asked how I juggle being a mom of two busy children, a busy unpredictable job, and continuing to lift at an elite level as a powerlifter. There are many, many times I question my own sanity, and there are many times where I feel I’m doing a terrible job at both lifting and parenting. But there are also many moments where I am able to draw on experiences from my lifting career and turn them into teachable moments in my children’s lives. I’m hopeful that my involvement in powerlifting, and the lifting community, has added more positives to my children’s lives than negatives.
I started powerlifting when my boys were one and three, after a brief stint in bodybuilding. Prior to this, I’d never really had a hobby per se. I’d always been active and had tried various sports, but nothing captured my interest the way powerlifting did. Thus most of my time was spent either at work, doing academic work, or doting on my young children. As I started training to become more competitive, I found it very difficult to balance being a mom, an academic physician, and a lifter. “Mom Guilt” is a real thing and I had it often – in fact I still do. But as time has gone, on I’ve realized I can still be a good mom, a good doctor, and a good powerlifter.
Now that my kids are a bit older, they are interested in what I am doing and ask a lot of questions. I am able to use my accomplishments and failures in the gym and on the platform as examples for them in their own lives, both when they are exceling and struggling. The need for practice and perseverance in both academic pursuits and extra-curricular activities is a prime example. When my children are anxious or don’t perform to their own expectations, I can remind them of the work it takes to become skilled at something. My nine year old has a decent amount of anxiety, which he inherited from me; I’m able to talk to him about how I deal with my own performance anxiety at meets when he’s struggling with his own demons before a significant event. As I see him learn to deal with stressful situations in both school and sporting events, I am hopeful that I’m leading by example, and that powerlifting has helped me to do so.
Learning that failure is ok and is part of what makes us mentally stronger is also something I’ve taught my kids through my lifting experiences. The first time I came home without a medal (after bombing at worlds nonetheless), I had to put my own bitterness aside and explain to them that this was in fact ok, that it’s ok to fail sometimes, and that the world doesn’t end. Grit is a difficult life skill to impart to children, but it’s an important one. Powerlifting has helped me in this regard. It’s also helped to model the importance of an active lifestyle and daily physical activity, in a world full of smartphones and iPads. I also hope I have shown them that you can actually excel in multiple areas of life, without too much sacrifice in one given area.
What does this ability to juggle ‘mom life’ mean for me as a powerlifter? Well, it means that powerlifting can never be my number one priority. My training days are not consistent days of the week, or times of the day. I fit training in where I am able, between hectic work hours, kids’ activities, grade four math homework, and bedtime stories. I do not follow any kind of diet template or count macros, for a variety of reasons, one of them being that I just literally cannot do it all – my time is limited. There are days where I literally haven’t eaten for six to eight hours, grab a quick snack, and then train because that’s my training window for the day. My conditions for training and meet prep are rarely optimal. I’m often training sleep deprived or rushed, and the kids are often in my tiny basement gym with me either hanging out or climbing all over the squat cage. Juggling powerlifting with my busy life also means I don’t have time for a lot of other activities, and that’s ok with me right now.
There are many other women that lift at an elite level, have children, and a day job – several world champions in fact. One of the great things about this sport is that it is nice to be able to reach out and share experiences with others who have similar joys and similar struggles. It’s a great community to be a part of. So far my juggling act is going ok, most of the time, in the context of my life. I still lift, and my kids still seem to like me….at least for now.