In March, Sarah Brown gave birth to a daughter, Abigail.
And on Thursday night, under rainy skies and before a packed crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Brown found herself at the starting line of the women's 1500-meters at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, just four months after being in the delivery room.
While there are many mothers who are competing in track and field and in other Olympic sports, Brown would be the first to admit she was cutting it close in the race from delivery date to trying to make an Olympic team.
Her spot as a newly minted mom at the starting line was unexpected. In late July, Brown and her husband, Darren, who is also her coach, learned that despite using an IUD for birth control she was pregnant. Copper IUDs are among the most effective birth control methods available; Brown was in the less than one percent of women who get pregnant using it.
Prior to finding out she was pregnant, Brown had just hit personal records in both the 800 meters and 1500 meters but noticed during races that she had a series of headaches, which she had dismissed as a head cold.
Brown and her husband immediately drafted a new training plan that kept her active but would also ensure a safe delivery—a training regime for which there was no clear template. After her safe delivery, they had to then do the inverse, ensuring that she wasn't hurting herself as her body recovered from the pregnancy but also that she was on track to be one of the top three competitors at the trials and so earn a berth to Rio. Typically, women will engage in some light exercise after delivering a baby, but will wait until after the six-week check-up to do more workouts. Brown's sponsor, New Balance, agreed to back her financially through the process.
"I really hit some hurdles I wasn't expecting," Brown said. Among them: low bone density (some women experience temporary bone density loss during and after pregnancy), fractures, and a sore Achilles tendon. Brown said she began training about six weeks postpartum and began to feel some pain in her back. Doctors found a tumor, which turned out to be benign. "It was a constant battle to get here," she said.
Her first workout back on the track was just three weeks ago and Brown said she was optimistic heading into competition Thursday.
"I'm not going to lie, it was awesome," Brown said. "I love Hayward Field. This atmosphere is great."
She added, "For me it was just perseverance. I attribute it to a zombie. You cut off my arm and I'm still, 'No! I'm going forward.' So I kind of felt like that throughout this whole process."
Brown's heat didn't go as planned, as toward the second half of the race, she and another runner tangled, bringing Brown briefly to the ground. She finished ninth in her heat with a time of 4:24.97, and failed to make it to the final.
"It didn't work out today," Brown said. "But I needed to get back out there so for me it was a win just to put myself out on the line."
Brown said she and her husband would talk about her next competitions this fall, likely involving some road races.
"It's heartbreaking because it's not what I wanted to show when I was back out there," she said. "I know I was better than that, but you know you gotta start somewhere."
Brown stood in a tent behind Hayward Field, still catching her breath. She started to cry.
"My daughter brings me so much happiness," she said. "And seeing it through for her meant a lot to me. The best moment of this will be going out there and seeing her."
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