This month we spoke with Israeli high jumper Maayan Furman-Shahaf about her journey back to the track after giving birth to twins.
Maayan is a staple in Israeli Athletics. With 7 high jump championships, a PB of 1.92m, a 5th place finish in the 2013 World Championships, and representing Israel in the European Championships in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, she is one of the most decorated Israeli athletes.
As an elite high jumper, constant training, monitored nutrition, and mental strengthening are all important parts of creating a winning season. So, when Maayan got pregnant she knew she would return to competition with the same fervor as she’d always had.
“My husband and I wanted to get pregnant after the 2016 Olympics and I knew I wanted to return to competition after.” For Maayan, her journey would prove to be a bit tougher as she found out she would be having twins. For single pregnancies, the risk of complication is far less than carrying multiples. While some sports are easier to continue training, high jump and contact sports such as rugby and soccer require a longer pause.
With a normal pregnancy, athletes often remain in shape and train with doctor’s approval. Some soccer players continue normally until roughly 13 weeks, while runners often continue longer throughout the pregnancy. Granted, every pregnancy is different, but the idea that women must completely discontinue all training has long faded.
But for Maayan, because of the high risk associated with twins she was put on bed rest at 5 months into her pregnancy. “The beginning of best rest was hard. It was weird I couldn’t really do anything, but I knew the safety of my twins was top priority. And after a while it was kind of fun because I could watch tv and do all the things I couldn’t do while training.”
Whether you are an athlete or not, the thought of bedrest can seem daunting. For athletes, it can heavily alter the postpartum training schedule. Many athletes continue to train throughout but imagine having to rest for more than half your pregnancy. For Maayan, having a relaxed mindset helped the transition and allowed her to focus solely on caring for her body and her twins.
Maayan gave birth on September 18, 2017 to two healthy babies. With the pregnancy behind her, work towards returning to competition could begin. With a small financial boost from maternity leave, Maayan began to focus on balancing her new life.
For athletes postpartum, breastfeeding can be a tough issue to tackle. The body can take weeks to regulate how much milk baby needs and the extra calories burned can be tough to calculate.
Along with breastfeeding, simply taking care of twins can be exhausting without the addition of elite training. Maayan breastfed and pumped for eight months and retuned to training after six months. “I was in such shock after giving birth. The breastfeeding, pumping and simply being a mom of two took all of my energy”.
This didn’t stop Maayan from chipping away at her goals. Learning to be easy on herself helped Maayan mentally focus, be more in tune with her body, and allow flexibility with her goals. As athletes, we learn to push ourselves to the limits, but postpartum is a stage to really evaluate what one’s return to competition will look like. While it may have taken Maayan longer than she anticipated, it did not bitter her outlook on motherhood and athletics. “The best advice I can give is to be patient with the comeback because it can feel very hard at times. The body is different, and the state of mind is different but if you really want it, it is possible.”
Down the road
Today, Maayan continues to train and take care of her twins in Israel. Her goals are the same, but she’s learned to manage drastic changes twins bring. “Having kids hasn’t necessarily motivated me to be a better athlete, but they definitely motivate me to be a better person.”
We at Gibora can’t wait to see what’s in store for Maayan in 2020 and hope her story inspires you to support moms continuing to strive for their goals.
" The best advice I can give is to be patient. The come back can be very hard. The body is different and the state of mind is different. But if you really want it you will make it."