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Gold medal mom: 'I felt selfish' training for Olympics

Aug. 3, 2012 at 8:43 AM ET

Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images /
Kristin Armstrong and her 23-month-old son Lucas: Having kids hasn't slowed these Olympic moms down.

For every woman who feels like she's had to scale back her personal ambitions since becoming a mother, gold medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong has a message: Don't give up on your dreams.

She retired after winning gold in Beijing to start a family; son Lucas arrived in 2010, but then she decided she wanted to compete again in the London Olympics. She dominated the 18-mile time trial cycling course and won a gold medal this week.

The decision to start training again wasn't easy. "I struggled with that a lot," she told TODAY.com in London after her gold-medal ride. "At the beginning I felt selfish, I felt like, 'Well, I'm not supposed to be thinking of myself anymore, it's all supposed to be for my kid."

She faced physical challenges of getting back into competition shape after giving birth, as well. When she started racing in the spring of 2011, she was still breast-feeding; she would nurse her son, then race, then breast-feed or pump again after the race. And her pre-child training schedule was a distant memory.

"Going into Beijing, I was a typical athlete: I’d wake up and I’d eat and I’d go train and then I’d eat and then I’d nap and then I’d eat and then I’d go to bed, and I’d sleep in and I’d do the same thing over," Armstrong recalled with a laugh. Before London, her days revolved around Lucas – and training.

She wakes up an hour before Lucas – precious "alone time" she uses to go on the Internet, have a cup of coffee, and eat breakfast without a toddler trying to steal her food. When Lucas, now 23 months, wakes up she feeds him breakfast, then goes out for a bike ride, then comes home in the early afternoon to do mom stuff, whether taking Lucas to the playground, coloring with him or putting him down for a nap, then playing with him for the rest of the day. Just like any mom who works part-time – well, except for the shiny gold medal around her neck.

"I feel like I’m able to do what I love to do and still manage a family and have that balance," Armstrong said. "For moms out there, and I’ve met so many of them, the message is that just because you have a family or a child doesn’t mean that you have to stop going after what you dream of individually."

Armstrong makes balance look easy, whether it's on her bike or as an athlete-mom. But she points out that you can't have it all without making some sacrifices. For example, don't expect a neat home -- her husband, Joe Savola, who she describes as her support system and her "protector," says he's had to give up on trying to keep everything orderly at home and just accept that their living room has become Lucas's playroom. For Kristin, she's sacrificed time with friends. No girls' nights out, no playdates with her friends who had kids around the same age – there just wasn't time.

Now, she says, "That sounds like fun to me." As she heads home to Boise, Idaho, she's ready to do regular mom stuff like playdates and taking her son to pee-wee soccer and gymnastics. But while she thinks Lucas will be an active kid, she says there's no pressure on him to be a future Olympian. As husband Joe says, all his parents want for him is "anything he wants to be, whether it’s musical, scholar, athletic – just whatever he’s passionate about and has drive for."

"At the end of the day, it's really about Lucas," he says. "Win or lose, we still have Lucas and that's what matters."

Anthony Quintano / NBC News /
First the gold medal, then playdates: Joe, Lucas and Kristin Armstrong are celebrating Kristin's gold medal in the cycling time trial.

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