Last weekend Emily Jackson, two-time world kayaking champion, won the Payette River Games in Idaho. Next month, she’ll deliver her first baby. Jackson, 23, is 9 months pregnant – due July 19th – but she hasn’t let that slow her down as she has continued to compete, and win, kayaking events throughout her pregnancy. The Payette River games were her seventh event during her pregnancy and her 2nd win. She’s been a top finisher in 4 other events over the past 9 months.
Before getting pregnant, Jackson already had an impressive resume. In her eight years competing on the world stage, she’s won two world championships and every national event she’s competed in. And she looks pretty awesome doing it.
Here’s a video of her competing in the Payette River Games (Jackson’s portion starts at 2:18):
Jackson does a lot of rolling and turning in the water, and the water itself is very turbulent. But she is clearly very capable and comfortable in the water and strong and agile enough to win.
A lot of people are and will be critical of Jackson for her choice to continue to compete despite her pregnancy. Many people worry about the health of the baby, how all that movement could impact the baby and whether or not it is safe to kayak in whitewater at all, let alone compete. However, most doctors say that as long as the woman feels comfortable, she can continue to participate in any activities she was involved in before the pregnancy.
In fact, that is the same counsel my doctor gave me during my first pregnancy when I asked if I could continue to run. She also said that by four or five months, most women slow down and walk instead of run. But by the time I got to that point, I still felt great. In fact, I continued to run throughout my pregnancy and ran 3.5 miles the evening before I went into labor. With my second pregnancy, I ran up until the end as well and even ran a 5K at 38 weeks, finishing in 30:45. And last summer, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I ran a 10K race at 32 weeks pregnant with a finish time of 50 minutes, and a (very hot) 5-miler at 36 weeks, finishing in 52 minutes. During all of this running and racing I was careful to slow down when I needed to, to hydrate properly, and to wear clothes that kept me cool and comfortable – and my belly supported.
Running pregnant was not something I took lightly, but I felt like it was the best thing I could do for both myself and my babies as I prepared to give birth to them. I went into labor knowing that my body was strong, and that I could endure through pain. In addition to helping me feel like myself throughout the pregnancy, it gave me confidence that I could actually birth a baby.
So although many people may think Jackson was irresponsible for competing so late in her pregnancy, I think she’s a great example to women of what their bodies are capable of doing. For too long people have thought of pregnancy as somewhat disabling, something that can keep you from doing what you need to do, something that prevents you from being active and energetic. And while there are certainly things to be careful about, and reasons to think twice about what you do with your body, pregnancy is also a time of empowerment and a time to maintain optimal health – for your own sake as well as the baby’s.
To Emily Jackson I say, Congratulations! On your wins and on your pregnancy. I wish you the best as you give birth and become a mom. Keep kayaking.