Katla Ketilsdottir from Iceland felt stronger after child birth but she did not have enough time to train for Riyadh ©Katla Ketilsdottir

Nearly every day has been a Mother’s Day at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh - because there are so many mums among the 354 taking part here.

"We’re all amazing! We should set up a group," said Thammy Nguyen from Ireland when she heard that there were more than 10 other mums giving their all on the platform.

Mother-of-two, Nguyen is alongside athletes from Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Mongolia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea on the list, which may be longer still. It has not been possible to ask every team.

Night feeds followed by early-morning training slots, post-partum depression, pelvic floor problems, training in an impact sport while breastfeeding, having to leave the baby or children behind for an international competition or training camp, putting huge demands on other family members, and the sheer exhausting physical demands all make the dual role of weightlifter-mother a challenge that would be beyond ordinary people.

"It’s like 500 times harder to be a mum and a weightlifter rather than just a weightlifter," said Anastasiia Hotfrid from Georgia, a world champion in the old 90 kilograms weight category in 2017, who has a young son, Erhard.

Hotfrid, 27, has to check if her competitions are televised and make sure they are not shown when she is away.

"Erhard misses me so much, we try not to let him see pictures of mum so he doesn’t cry."

Hotfrid, like several other weightlifter-mothers, felt stronger after giving birth but had to train for about nine months to get back to her pre-pregnancy levels.

Katla Ketilsdottir from Iceland also felt stronger but she did not have nine months to train for Riyadh.

Thammy Nguyen from Ireland said all moms in Riyadh are "amazing" ©Thammy Nguyen
Thammy Nguyen from Ireland said all moms in Riyadh are "amazing" ©Thammy Nguyen

Ketilsdottir expected to lose more weight than she did when she gave birth to daughter Julia in April.

"I weighed 80kg, and I had to get down to 64kg in about four months.

"Not going to the World Championships was not an option. I told myself I was going and that was that."

So through exercise, diet and breastfeeding - "that helps to take off the weight" - Ketilsdottir shed one fifth of her body weight.

On weigh-in day, she was still slightly over the limit, so did she go to the sauna?

"No, I just went outside - in Saudi Arabia it’s the same thing!" said Ketilsdottir, who at 22 is youngest of the mums in Riyadh. Temperatures here have been around 43C (109F) most days.

The mums from Iceland and Ireland met for the first time here.

"I asked Thammy if she had any tips, and she said 'Yes, wear a pad so you don’t pee on the platform.'

"It was good advice."

Nguyen, who took six years out of the sport to have daughter Lilly and son Marc, explained why after becoming Ireland’s first ever female medallist at the European Championships in April.

"When women have babies, their bodies change and the pelvic floor stretches, so it is harder to keep pee in. It is an embarrassing topic to talk about, but it shouldn't be.

"There’s a lot of impact around the pelvic floor, so rather than be standing on the stage having peed myself, I looked at wearing a nappy (adult diaper). It's the reality, not something to be ashamed about."

Nguyen also struck up a friendship with Beatriz Piron from Dominican Republic, a mother of three who had her first child when she was a teenager.

"She couldn't speak English and I couldn’t speak Spanish but when she weighed in at my group I said you have three, I have two, we have mam power and both of us just laughed.

"It's a mam thing.

"I was talking with Katla about when you have night feeds, you have to train, you can’t change your time slot for training, and when you come back to change jobs from athlete to mother some days are so, so difficult and absolutely draining.

"We also spoke about post partum depression, how she was feeling, juggling baby life and athlete life. It felt very good to have another mammy there."

Fernanda Valdes from Chile said that going to the gym helped her beat post partum depression © Fernanda Valdes
Fernanda Valdes from Chile said that going to the gym helped her beat post partum depression © Fernanda Valdes

One mother who used the gym as a way to beat post partum depression is Fernanda Valdes from Chile, who came within one place of the podium in the women’s 87kg.

In an interview last year, Valdes said she had been feeling low after giving birth to her daughter Rafaela.

"I was at home alone and you see yourself as having changed, that is, your independence is no longer your independence.

"I started to cry, I was very down, I didn't feel like doing anything and fortunately I realised that, of course, I was going there (to postpartum depression).

"I packed my things and I went to the gym. Within a week I was already super well, and happy. Fortunately I detected it in time."

The oldest mothers lifting in Riyadh were Jenli Wini from Solomon islands, whose son is in the national basketball team, and Dika Toua from Papua New Guinea, whose 13-year-old daughter Ani-Guea will lift in the Under-15 Oceania Championships in November when Dika competes in the seniors.

Beatriz Piron was a teenager when she had the first of her three children. 

Without family support she would never have enjoyed the weightlifting career that brought her many gold medals and a fourth-place finish at Rio 2016, the first of her two Olympic Games appearances.

At Tokyo she finished eighth, only four months after giving birth to her second daughter by caesarean section.

"We did it with the help of specialists, therapists, a masseuse, and people already involved in the subject who could help me with care and the movements that I could or could not do," Piron told a local interviewer.

Combining an elite sporting career with motherhood "hasn't been easy at all… I have had to count on my mother, my sisters and my husband's relatives to help me. I am eternally grateful".

Being away from the children, especially for lengthy training camps, has been hardest, Piron said.

She was away for two months when her first daughter was an infant. She had her first birthday while mum was away and Piron was "filled with sadness when I returned home".

"She was already a year old, she walked and could recognise some faces, but didn't know mine."

After she first became a mother, she said: "I thought that I would not be able to return to the sport, and that if I did I would not perform the same.

"But it was the opposite, I was already more mature and I felt more strength."

Jenny Schumacher, chair of the USA Weightlifting Board, mother, masters weightlifter, and in Riyadh as an International Technical Official, said, "Women often come back stronger, psychologically and physically, after birth - we call it mom strength.

"You have a feeling of confidence and capability in life that whatever comes up, you can deal with it.

"It’s not seen as stereotypical for women to gain strength after becoming a mother. It’s always a pleasure to break a stereotype.

"All these mothers here are simply amazing."