translated by Brett Larner
Sydney and Athens Olympics distance runner Megumi Oshima, 34, gave birth to a baby boy on Sept. 14. Looking for a sponsor, Oshima hopes to make a comeback to the running world and compete in the 2012 London Olympics together with her husband Kenta Oshima, 30, (Team Nissin Shokuhin).
Oshima and Kenta met during the course of their professional running careers and married in June, 2004. Both wanted children, so the couple planned to have one following the announcement of the teams for the Beijing Olympics. Having left her sponsoring company last year, Oshima was in the midst of looking for a way to continue her life as a professional athlete when she discovered she was pregnant in January. "Counting backward from my planned peak at the selection race for the London Olympic team and taking my age into account we decided that this was the only good chance we'd have for a child," she says. "I'm very happy about it, but at the same time I haven't been able to find a new sponsor so my concerns about whether or not I'll really be able to make a comeback are pretty big."
After learning she was pregnant Oshima adapted her daily training to suit what her body was telling her. Nevertheless, she remains surprised by the changes pregnancy brought. She had morning sickness until the fifth month, and she was often unable to get up by herself. "Whenever I ate I had to rush off to the toilet, and it was so bad that it even started making Kenta get sick. At the same time I started craving pasta, which I had always hated ever since I was young. I started wondering if I was OK."
In consultation with her obstetrician and sports doctor Oshima continued weight training lightly to maintain her muscle condition. Nevertheless despite never having sustained a serious injury in all her years of running from junior high school until now, Oshima was forced to take two months completely off running. It was her first experience of an extended period away from the sport and her took her a long time to adjust psychologically and emotionally. "When you can't exercise like normal it feels like a sin," she says. "When Kenta and I would go out for a walk in the park and I would see someone running I would say things like, "Oh, that guy's got nice form. I bet if I raced him right now I could beat him."
Unable to run herself, Oshima started cooking Kenta's meals to help him out in his training. Every day she reads his training plan and then prepares meals with a balance of meat, fish and carbohydrates suited to that day's demands. "I'm kind of using Kenta as a laboratory to help me learn more about the nutrition side of things for when I make my comeback," she laughs. "It's a bonus that it has turned out to be something I enjoy." Kenta credits her cooking with helping him run a PB while finishing 5th in March's Tokyo Marathon, saying, "Thinking about nutrition while planning our meals was a big part of it."
Oshima hopes to be back to training by the end of the year, but what to do with the baby while she is working out is a considerable problem. Between training camps and out of town races Kenta is gone three or four months out of the year. It's of course impossible to leave her son at nursery school all the time, but even though Oshima's parents are helping out in every way they can the demands of childraising will still be tough. Kenta's salary from running for Nissin Shokuhin is the family's only source of income. Shonan Track Club International, a non-profit organization geared to assisting struggling athletes, is helping her look for a sponsor but it's different from when she was on a corporate team. There is a lot to worry about, not least of which is Oshima's concern with getting into the right kind of training environment.
"We can't help it that Kenta is going to be gone sometimes for training. We're thinking about shifting our training schedules when he's around so that we can each take turns taking care of our baby while the other is working out. We're going to accomodate each other's training plans as much as possible, but we since we're professionals we both know that there are things we can't compromise on. On the other hand there are going to be times when the baby gets sick suddenly, so we won't be able to train completely the way we have up until now. I'm going to need a lot of people's help to make my comeback, but I haven't worked out all the details yet. Right now I'm kind of weak mentally, but if I can settle everything myself I think it'll help me feel like I'm on my way back to being tough and focused."
In the Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Tomescu (Romania) and silver medalist Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) were both mothers. When Oshima has the chance to talk about these two women and about Japanese Olympian Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) it reaffirms her own desire for a comeback. "They all say, 'Your heart and mind get stronger. You work harder for your children.' It's really encouraging to hear that successful women like them believe that. I start getting excited when I imagine bringing my baby along to training camps and races."
When Oshima travelled to Kenta's races with him while she was pregnant, many people she knew within the distance running world told her, "Oh, so you've retired, then. Congratulations." Comments like that made her want to do something about the situation of Japanese women within the industry, many of whom want to keep running after giving birth but are unable to. "For me making a comeback after having a baby is just a given so it didn't really bother me to hear that kind of thing, but I think this idea that 'marriage and a baby equals retirement' is a totally outdated relic. There are a lot of Japanese athletes who still want to have a career as mothers, and I want to help create more chances for them. If they know more about my situation then maybe they'll see that they still have options too. I think speaking out publicly as much as I can is the best approach I can take."
Having run in two Olympic Games in older times, Oshima wants to make the London Olympics as a mother. Kenta hopes to join her in his first Olympic appearance. "Running in the Olympics as husband and wife would be a great achievement. It gives me the motivation to try to get there." His newborn son is the greatest ally he could ask for in reaching for this dream. "Trying to make the Olympics up til now I've always just been driven by ego and pushed from above, but ultimately it's been something lonely and empty. Now I'm going to do everything I can so that someday I can tell my son how it felt when I was standing on the starting line in London."
Following the interview, the Oshimas went to a nearby park for a short photo shoot. A runner couple came up along the edge of the road, chatting happily as they passed. "That looks like fun," sighed Megumi. "I want to do that too." Running brought the Oshimas together and keeps them close as they enter this new phase of their lives.