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Fit Follow-Up: Rachael Farmer

  • Name: Rachael Farmer
  • Child: Daughter Ellie, born October 28, 2013
  • Claim to Fame: Twenty-month-old Ellie Farmer became a bit of an Internet sensation recently, thanks to a video of her scaling a seven-foot climbing wall with impressive (and adorable) ease. But given the athletic background of her mother, Rachael Farmer—a competitive climber who kept up the sport till three days before Ellie’s birth—it is no wonder the tot has some skills. While Rachael, a neonatal nurse in Flagstaff, Arizona, and her husband, fellow climber Zak Farmer, have recognized their daughter’s appeal (she her own Facebook page now at The Little Zen Monkey), Rachael’s pregnancy and post-baby story is plenty inspiring on its own. She chatted with us about climbing walls at nine months pregnant, childbirth and teaching her daughter the joy of moving. “I want her to grow up loving and respecting the most important tool she’ll ever own,” she says. “Her body.”
The Best Laid Plans

I found out that I was pregnant while competing at USA Climbing Nationals in February 2013. We were planning on having a baby, but I wanted to time it perfectly so that I could be pregnant, deliver and get back into shape for the 2014 nationals without missing too much in-between. What I didn’t expect was how fast I got pregnant and how fast the morning sickness set in. There I was, trying to compete in a national-level climbing competition, unknowingly five weeks pregnant, so weak I could hardly stand up and puking my brains out. At the time it didn’t click. The morning after, I woke up in our hotel room and could hardly get out of bed. I dug out a pregnancy test. Yep, it was positive.

Nine Active Months

I ran as much as I could for the first few weeks, but the morning sickness was horrific. I know a number of women who ran safely throughout their pregnancy, but I just couldn’t get past the thought that I was bouncing my baby around too much. I swapped out running for hiking and I don’t regret it for a moment. I would hike four to five days a week for anywhere between two and six miles a day. As for climbing, I did as much as I possibly could: five to six days a week for two to four hours a day. I live at the gym and always have. At 14 weeks pregnant I won a local climbing competition and on training days I wouldn’t hesitate to rip my shirt off and rock the sports bra look with my naked baby bump hanging out.

Familiar Territory

Climbing comes with an extreme label. People tend to immediately think of avalanches, rock falls and ropes snapping. It’s difficult to understand the dynamics of climbing if you’re not a climber yourself. Around my second trimester I set my main climbing harness aside and transitioned into a full-body harness that would facilitate the bump. I also never put myself into dangerous situations and if I didn’t feel well one day I didn’t push it. I honestly felt like I was putting my baby at more risk while driving pregnant in my car than I ever did while climbing pregnant.

Mindful Modifications

Around 33 weeks I had a shortened cervix and mild contractions. In fear of going into pre-term labor, I stopped climbing for two weeks and did a form of modified bed rest. My cervical length went back to a less worrisome length and the contractions stopped, so I resumed climbing around 36 weeks. After that I pulled my beast of a belly up the wall each day and climbed up until three days before I delivered. Yes, climbing that late in pregnancy was uncomfortable and miserable, but so was sitting around the house. I figured I’d at least stay active and climb versus sit on my butt and play the waiting game.

A Real Athletic Endeavor

Women who have children and continue to be athletes amid the chaos of postpartum recovery, poopy diapers, breastfeeding, sleepless nights and tears deserve a world of respect in my mind. Having a baby has been a life-changing event for me. I love my child, but I’ve also sacrificed endless personal time. Where I use to take a moment to relax and meditate, work out, read a book or tend to daily chores, I now put her needs first. I recently read, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.” There is so much truth in that quote and it has taken focus, flexibility, dedication and prioritization to keep up on my training schedule.

Kicking Labor’s Butt

I never really prepared for labor. Looking back that was one thing I would have changed. As a neonatal nurse I knew my way around the delivery room, but I had no idea what those women were going through until I was in it myself. I had a natural birth, without pain intervention, and up until the day I went into labor I considered myself to have a high pain tolerance. My 8 pound 4 ounce baby proved me wrong. I’ve never felt pain like I did that day and I will not hesitate to admit that I sobbed in between contractions and pushing. If I ever have a second baby, my goal is to get back in there and kick labor’s butt. I want to be more in tune with my breathing, the contractions and embracing the pain rather than fighting against it.

The Climb Back

I had trouble walking for the first two weeks post delivery, but after that the stitches dissolved and I was able to start climbing and hiking again. I competed in nationals four months post delivery, but I didn’t feel as phenomenal as I would have liked. I remember truly feeling like I was back to my pre-pregnancy self around nine months postpartum. It took a long time for the scar tissue to completely break up in the pelvic floor and despite endless abdominal workouts and running I found that my body just needed time to get back to its normal self. I’m back to my usual routine of climbing about five to six days a week. I’m currently competing in competitions across the U.S. and I have more motivation than ever now that my 20-month-old is in the crowd and cheering me on. I think it is especially important that she sees my husband and I work out as athletes. My body has taken me to amazing places, taught me the joy of being an athlete and it rewards me ten fold if I care for it as if it is the most important thing I own. I want my child to find that same awareness and appreciation.

Athletic Advice

View working out as a part of your lifestyle. Find pleasure in it, smile and accept that it is pushing your own personal bar higher. Don’t view it as a chore and don’t overly compare yourself to others.

Proud Parenting

Ellie is a little athlete in the making. All children are. “Run, Ellie, run!” and “Yes, climb on that, but let me spot you so you’re safe,” are all words of encouragement that I frequently share with her. When I put on my climbing shoes and dedicate myself to a workout as an athlete, lace up my running shoes and push her down the road in the jogger or slice up a cucumber and dip it in tahini, I am teaching her some of the little joys that life has to offer. Health and happiness will naturally follow.


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