Mother’s Day, with mum Para athlete: Kate Horan
Paralympian #145 Kate Horan is a veteran of New Zealand sport, having represented her country at three Paralympic Games. But motherhood came first, “by quite a few years,” she explains. Sue Cardwell, Digital & Communications Manager at Paralympics New Zealand, caught up with Kate before Mother’s Day to find out what it means to be a ‘mum Para athlete’ and how things are changing for those who want to have babies as well as compete in elite sport.
Listen to Kate Horan discuss being a parent and Paralympian
Being a working parent can often be hard. But there are unique challenges – and benefits – to being a Paralympian and raising a family.
“Being a Paralympian and having children just means you’ve got a far bigger juggling act. The hardest part is if you’re away travelling, you’re gonna miss some of your children’s milestones. Their sports games. And it can be quite tough. Most mums suffer guilt but as a Paralympian training and possibly being away, you tend to suffer even more guilt.”
Missing her children’s milestones was incredibly hard for Kate. There were tears, and it was at those times that she questioned what she was doing.
But there are also special moments, like when all three of her boys saw her compete in her final race.
She smiles as she relives what her sporting career has given to her children and grandchildren (she has three, with another on the way).
“(My children) have learned that if you want something enough, you can achieve that with a lot of hard work.”
Training and breastfeeding
Kate’s story is one of determination and adaptability. A multi-talented Para athlete, she represented New Zealand in two Paralympic Games in 2004 and 2008 in Para athletics as a sprinter and then returned in 2016, this time in Para cycling.
It’s a story where family and Para sport are interwoven, rather than one taking the place of the other.
“With (Para) athletics, I just had the two boys, and they were of an age that they understood what my goal was and they were totally behind me. And even when I was away, they understood what I was doing and that made it easier.
“When I made the move into Para cycling, I had a baby. It was quite different. And I was breastfeeding him. It was juggling breastfeeding and training. It was tricky.”
More mums are now in high performance sport
Kate didn’t have other mum athletes around her while she was training for Rio 2016.
“The whole team knew I was still breastfeeding. There were times in airports when I was having to go to the bathroom and express.”
There have been recent examples of high-profile athletes having to fight for the right to be parents. Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher was told she had to leave her three-month-old breastfed baby at home if she wanted to compete in Tokyo 2020. Boxer Mandy Bujold was deemed ineligible to compete in the Tokyo Olympics after missing (delayed) qualifiers because she was pregnant.
But Kate is optimistic about the future.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my career in that I have been well supported by Paralympics New Zealand. When I had my two boys and I was going away to different camps, I was able to take one with me and then on the next trip I took the other child. I hope that other sporting codes are the same. And I do believe that is improving all the time.”
She believes there is more awareness of parents’ needs these days, as well as more mums competing in high performance sport. Two of her old teammates from Para cycling are both mums who are currently competing overseas. She thinks the answer is bringing parenthood into sports, not trying to juggle between them.
“Being a mum at the peak of your career, the only way for them to do it is to have their children along. It’s to have their babies there, and they will play better. They will train better.”
Bringing kids along doesn’t just benefit the parents, but the whole team.
“Sometimes it adds another dynamic to the team and it can be really good to have a baby or a child on board for people to kind of just relax and take comfort from. A young one running around lightens the load.”
Don’t let it stop you
I asked Kate’s advice to those hoping to be both parent and Paralympian. Be prepared for it to be hard, she advises, but don’t let it stop you.
And what will Kate be doing for Mother’s Day?
“Oh goodness, I’m expecting to get spoiled rotten. It might not happen! With all the family being at home, I’m like ‘Right guys, put it on for me.’ We’ll see!”