Strip away the award ceremonies and medals. Ignore the thunderous screams and applause of the crowd, the deafening emcees and the music thumping as an overlay. This was never about the noise. It was about the silence. The dark moments alone full of sleepless nights, exhaustion and tears, wondering -fearing-that perhaps her best athletic days were behind her.
This is about Mallory Lawson proving -no, refusing- to give in to the notion that being a new mother and a high-level athlete are two mutually exclusive things.
It’s about a woman fighting and clawing to get back into shape, racing against the clock for months before Lawson stood on the podium with CrossFit 417, the second-place Games-bound team out of the CrossFit Central Regional.
“I’m not totally back to where I was, but I’m getting there,” Lawson said prior to taking the competition floor. “My performance is better, my clothes are starting to fit again, I have hope. It’s not all lost, even though you think it is, early. Three months and six months [post partum] when it’s not happening. You see little changes and have hope that it’s going to get better.”
That hope and patience and sacrifice, juggling nine-month-old baby Luke, a full-time job and training, paid off when 417’s team punched their ticket to The CrossFit Games in August.
This was always part of Lawson’s plan, getting pregnant after the 2015 CrossFit Games and coming back to compete within a year. What wasn’t part of the plan was not getting cleared to lift or do intense CrossFit for four months after giving birth. Or dealing with round ligament pain so bad Lawson couldn’t walk without it hurting for most of her pregnancy. She didn’t account for her diet being overhauled, for serious sugar withdrawals, bloating and body-image issues almost immediately.
Everything in the gym had always come so easy.
“Getting back in shape was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Lawson said.” Everything had always come naturally, I’ve always been an athlete. Actually having to grit through workouts and get beat [by others] and suffer every single day, it was defeating.”
“It was defeating every single day. I wanted to quit. I thought to myself, ‘This is the end. I’m going to be done with [competitive] CrossFit and I’m going to be one of those women that work out maybe an hour a day [alone in a traditional gym] and I have to be OK with that.”
Lawson’s teammate, Jared Wayne Stevens was not.
That first month was hell.
“As soon as I had Luke, I was hoping that there was a return policy because it was the hardest month of my entire life,” said Lawson, who gave birth after more than 30 hours of labor on August 8. “Your body is not yours anymore, it’s your kids. I really wanted to nurse, but you can’t diet [and do that]. You eat as much as you can and try establish a milk supply.”
Lawson, who would eventually work up to drinking 200 oz of water a day to produce enough milk, returned to the gym 11 days later. Sort of. Because she had some tearing, she was told to not do any intense exercise for six weeks. But she was going stir crazy at home so she went to the gym and did some light rowing, lunges and pushups. She did that two days a week until her appointment where she figured she’d be cleared.
But the doctor said lifting heavy and doing competitive CrossFit was out of the question. It was still too dangerous to her pelvic floor.
So Lawson, who was only really able to lift during her pregnancy because of the searing round ligament pain, returned to cardio.
“It was a long process. I didn’t realize how out of shape I was. I was wetting my pants constantly, which I found out later was pretty normal,” Lawson said.
“I cried a lot. Every day was so hard. I just wasn’t used to losing in our gym. And people would say ‘But you just had a baby,’ and I was like, ‘That’s not an excuse. That’s a reason I’m not performing but that can’t be my excuse anymore.’ I needed accountability.”
For a while, she hid.
Lawson, who works full time as a fitness wellness director from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. started doing her workouts there instead. There was no one to compete against, no one to see how soft her body had become, the extra skin where abs used to be.
Then Stevens called her up and told her to get to the gym. He wanted to talk.
“I remember Jared saying, ‘Why do you look so sad?,” Lawson said. “And I was like, ‘This is so hard. I’m nursing, I’m working full-time, and I’m trying to workout two hours a day. I don’t see how I’m going to get where I need to [to make the 417 team].”
Stevens told her to just take it one day at a time and wouldn’t let Lawson go back to training alone at work.
“That was a turning point for me,” she said. “I just got beat and beat and beat by every single person in the gym but Jared wouldn’t give in. Eventually you push yourself to where you don’t get beat as bad. And you might have a win in there and you’re like, ‘Did I miscount?’”
The first week of December, Lawson was back on the competitive programming.
By January, she had started seeing what fellow athletes had been telling her since her return: her body was coming back.
“As soon as I started picking up weights, my body started changing,” Lawson said. “At first, people said it, but you still don’t feel like you look good. I was still nursing, exhausted. Now that I’m done nursing, the energy levels are so much better. It’s night and day different. My body is starting to become my own again.”
Perhaps one of the best things, besides Luke, to come out of her pregnancy is a new outlook on nutrition.
Lawson was previously doing a carb-backloading diet, meaning she’d save all of her carbs for nighttime. That translated into a nightly pig-out session of waffles, pancakes and donuts of up to 350 grams of carbs.
At competitions, people would be eating super-clean and she’s break out a box of pasties and pizza. When she got pregnant, Lawson was hungry all the time and going carb-free for long stretches wasn’t happening.
“I also had terrible sugar cravings and that’s when I realized carb backloading was not the way to go,” she said. “You’re not allowed to eat fruit on it, and that was the thing I added back in. Pears and blueberries I ate a lot of. Instead of half a dozen donuts, I would eat fruit at night.”
“My protein doesn’t even have sugar in it, but it’s sweet,” said Lawson, who is a Driven Nutrition athlete. “That helped with the sugar cravings. I also learned to do plain greek yogurt at night with a scoop of protein. If you freeze it for 10 minutes it kind of tastes like ice cream.”
Post-baby, Lawson has stuck with her healthier approach, ditching the daily donuts and going to macro-tracking instead. To help lose weight, Lawson keeps her carbs under 251 grams, with 40 g fat and 140 g protein.
“The first six weeks you are so fatigued, pretty much nursing every hour, you don’t really think about the weight because you are just trying to survive,” she said. “After that, you look at your body and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, my skin is stretched out!’…At 12 weeks is when I felt comfortable enough to take a picture of myself and send it to [Stevens]. And I took a picture a week later and it was a huge different by actually sticking to my macros.”
Lawson’s Top Tips (For new or expectant moms)
Connect with other women who have kids at your gym. “They have so much information they can give you. I wouldn’t be able to get through nursing without the moms at our gym. The three-month mark you want to quit. I remember a mom just grabbed and was like, ‘Don’t give up! You are at the the hardest part. Just keep going!’ Moms just need encouragement.”
Try to not beat yourself up. “Seeing yourself in a different light is really, really hard. At the beginning you can’t tell anyone [you’re pregnant] and you just look chubby. And you get that CrossFit [thinking], ‘I need to lose weight’. Try not to stress about it. If you’re hungry don’t be afraid of it. You still need moderation in your life. Try to enjoy being pregnant.”
Accountability is key. Lawson credits Stevens, who would also call and text her to keep her on track, with helping her get back into a routine. Her mother-in-law, knowing how important training was, also offered to babysit Luke two days a week to help Lawson squeeze gym time in. Finding someone to keep you accountable, and using your support system is key to staying sane!
For a day-by-day look at Lawson’s journey, read this blog series.
Photos courtesy of Mallory Lawson and Driven Nutrition.