Recently pregnant and with her kids on spring break, Jaala Knowlton took time out of her very full schedule—no excuse is good enough, she says—to share some tips and inspiration with other Women’s Adventure readers. She’s the spring Trek Cyclist of the Season, and for good reason. Read on for Jaala’s incredible story as told to WAM editor, Jennifer Olson.
I may not put on as many miles as most of the other women who may be considered for this position, but I sure have to say that I am going to be working a bit harder. In fact, I am pregnant and due at the start of October.
I am an athlete at heart and love to bike, road bike in specific. My true heart is in triathlons. I have been doing them for 15 years and haven’t stopped, even when circumstances have slowed me down. You see, this is my seventh biological child in the past nine years, and I also have a step son, which totals us at eight… almost. I hope to be an inspiration to other women, particularly moms who think it can’t be done and that they have to find another lifestyle after they have children.
Originally a swimmer, I discovered running for fitness in college. And—to get from point A to point B—I rode my bike, appreciating the freedom of it and then discovering exploration on two wheels, increasing my distances and going for pleasure rides. Then, I combined these three sports I loved and found a major fondness for triathlon. I raced on the collegiate tri team and even ended up going to the national championships. I did great. I just didn’t know how great until sponsors started calling me the next week, asking if I would race for them. I don’t consider myself exceptional, but took a year to race and enjoyed it!
Right after I finished an Ironman, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I had been told prior to that that I was probably never going to be able to have children. So it was kind of a miracle to find out I could. The doctors said I shouldn’t take risks, so I pulled back in my physical fitness routine. But I could still ride my bike and enjoy my time, not with speed but with freedom and for comfortable distances. My baby, when I took her for a ride in the Burley, enjoyed it too. She thought, “I’ve had this feeling before and it’s fun.”
Since that first child, I’ve had several. I have continued to be able to exercise and train (in true moderation, mind you) through each of my very healthy pregnancies, resulting in very healthy babies. And, I continue to train with all of those little people with me. I run with my Quad stroller and, gosh darn, I bike with a tag-along and two Burleys attached as a train. It makes for incredible training, I might say. I also get my personal time with some of my longer road bike rides and my swims, while Daddy plays daddy.
The year before my first pregnancy, I rode my first RAGBRAI (500 miles across Iowa). The next time, I had an injury on day two. So I rode RAGBRAI on a recumbent bike that year instead. The hills were tough because you can’t get that power when you can’t stand up, but the recumbent showed me there are all these ways to enjoy a bike and that it’s possible to modify as needed. I used it to ride RAGBRAI in my third pregnancy too, because I knew I’d be five months along and was nervous about the distance. I felt out what was safe, made sense, and sounded appropriate. I love being able to ride and know I can do it healthfully, for myself and the baby. This summer will be the fifth time I have biked RAGBRAI pregnant. I’ll be seven months along, but my husband will support me and will be around to help after those 100-mile days.
People ask me all the time how I have time to train with all my children and a full-time job. Here’s how: I pull them and push them and take them along for the ride. I don’t necessarily get the full distance, but I have the strength. I have fun keeping myself in shape, and I find time for myself in biking.
Do what you want to do, instead of thinking in “have to” terms. Even if you take your kids a good 20-30 minute bike ride on a weekend, it’ll be a hundred times better because you’re enjoying yourself, rather than making yourself get on a treadmill or spin bike. My oldest biological child is nine, and my step child is 16. They all want to be out on their bikes. My lifestyle inspires them to be outside. They love it too. My husband and I got a tandem a couple years ago so we could ride together and haul all the kids too. It’s become a wonderful family activity.
To other women who are pregnant, the key is, obviously, knowing your body, moderation, and doing what’s appropriate for how you feel. I wouldn’t tell a beginner woman to do a 500-mile bike ride while seven months pregnant, but I’d say listen to your body and try doing what you can. You know your own body. Any woman who’s pregnant can find options. You do want to stay healthy and fit, even if it’s a nice walk or cruise on the bike on a weekend. It’ll keep you healthy and also keep your baby healthy.
We all have excuses. I hear a lot of them. I have a lot of them. But there’s always a way that you can allow yourself to do something, especially if it’s something you know you’ll enjoy, something that will fulfill your life. Find how you can ditch the excuse.
Look into resources. They make Burleys for two kids, for example, but I have more than two kids who’d like to go along and can’t ride the distance we all want to go. That’s why we have a Burley/tag-along train. Get creative. There are all these things out there that you wouldn’t necessarily know existed. There are many excuses, but there are modifications, tools, and time. Don’t let time be something that stops you. You can always find time. Make an appointment for yourself. Those appointments, you cannot let go, like you wouldn’t skip a dentist or doctor appointment. Plan it, make it happen.