Editor’s note: This is the part of a series highlighting the 2021 Olympic Games with a specific emphasis on health and wellness.
July 23, 2021 — While thousands of athletes are now competing in the COVID-19-challenged Tokyo Olympics, about a dozen representing Team USA have another distinction: They’re moms.
From U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan to Skylar Diggins-Smith, the U.S. basketball player, these women have reached the pinnacle of their careers by qualifying for this ultimate athletic event.
One of the biggest stars in the dozen, Foluke Gunderson, a member of the women’s volleyball team and mom to Olukayode Ayodele, born in 2019, chatted with us just days before heading to Tokyo for her stint at the Games.
While this is the third time she’s participated in the Olympics, this is her first as a mom. Read on as Gunderson shares a behind-the-scenes look at her training schedule, more on the “mom juggle,” and her dream that the team will win its first-ever gold medal.
How are you feeling right now with the Games right around the corner?
“I’m very excited for what’s to come. Our team has put in a lot of work both on the court and off the court. We used COVID-19 as an opportunity to become closer as a team with our Zoom calls and our monthly meetings. At the time, it didn’t feel like much was being done, but everything came together this summer — us getting to know each other, being on the same mission, and then ultimately selflessness, changed the culture of our team.”
These Games must feel different now that you’re a mom. What do you love doing most with your son?
“He loves going to the park, and his love language is reading books, so he loves story time. In May, I left for a 5-week tournament. When I got back, his language had grown so much. He was waving and saying, ‘Hi, Momma.’ I think it’s important to share that it’s easy to define yourself by what happens on the court when, in reality, we’re so much more than volleyball players. I love coming home and letting go and pouring my love into him. I’ll be doing lots of FaceTimes from Tokyo!”
What’s it like to train for the Olympics?
“I’ll use today as an example. We started at 8:30 a.m., we lifted for an hour and a half, and then practiced for roughly 3 hours. Then we had meetings afterwards. We typically lift three times a week. Yesterday, we started the day at 7 a.m., so the schedule varies from day to day, but it’s always intense.”
What’s one thing you always do to take care of yourself?
“One thing I always do is that I hydrate. Also, I need quiet time to myself. Even if it’s 10 to 15 minutes, that kind of self-care and taking a little time to myself lets me be good for everyone else. When I don’t get that downtime, I feel overwhelmed.”
Being an elite athlete is hard enough. Being a mom makes it a real juggle. How do you make it work?
“I think there’s 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 on the road, at practice, he is taking care of our son (and getting his MBA, too). For this to work, you have to have a tribe behind you.”
You’ve had an incredible career. What’s one bit of advice you have for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams?
“I always suggest setting small goals. It’s difficult to look at something so far in the distance or the big task at hand. Instead, I like to break down 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 the way. Dreams take sacrifice, hard work, and a belief in yourself.”