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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

Lockdown gave me time to be a mom - Irvette van Zyl

SA marathon sensation Irvette van Zyl says the COVID-19 pandemic gave her time to focus on her role of being a wife and a mother to her two children. The three-time Soweto Marathon champion says the lockdown allowed her to spend more time with her two and five-year-old sons and husband, retired athlete LJ van Zyl.

“I had a lot of time to focus on my kids and husband for a change. I know that I missed a lot of races that I could have won and made money, but the big gap offered me more time and opportunity to spend with my family,” she said. "LJ was also working from home so we had more time to bond, and catch up on wasted timeAfter enjoying the break, the 33-year-old got back to training last week and says her fitness is slowly returning.

Irvette with her husband LJ van Zyl (a multiple Commonwealth Games medalist) and their two sons.

“The kids are back at school, and I am back in training, but I am a pear shape now. It is tough being a mother, wife, and an athlete. But somehow, I manage. I traveled a lot before the pandemic, but it stopped for a while. I am back to my regular training routine and looking forward to next year and hope that life would return to normal,” said an optimistic Van Zyl.

But if 2020 is anything to go by then it will be a while before the athletics calendar returns to normal. Efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus saw all of Van Zyl's favourite events cancelled. The Spar Ladies 10km series didn't take place, while her beloved Soweto Marathon also didn't happen. The Nedbank Running Club athlete said she missed the People's Race most of all and spent a lot of time looking at the old photos of her past victories. “Sadly, it did not happen as I fancied my chances of winning it for the fourth time. I was eager to retain my title. The pandemic had a ripple effect on everyone. Spar race is a big part of my running career, and I was also planning to run the Two Oceans Marathon."

van Zyl wins the 2019 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon 42.2km race to make it three titles.

Her husband works for the University of Pretoria and he is busy with his second degree from a German university. Irvette was pleased to be able to take over some of the parenting duties in the van Zyl household which were reserved for LJ when she was in competition. She relieved him to focus on his work and studies by cooking, bathing, and taking care of the kids without having to stress about a loss of income from canceled races. The modest runner said she dipped into her savings and also receives a monthly retainer from her club. Van Zyl was one of the athletes to receive the R20 000 Covid relief funding from the Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation minister Nathi Mthethwa in July.

“ LJ works from home, and his salary helps us a lot, and I am also grateful to my running club for supporting me every month,” she explains. Irvette also shared a piece of advice on how to bounce back from having a baby. She said women shouldn't delay marriage and starting a family because they are professional runners.

Irvette flanked by Rutendo Nyahora (left) and Mapaseka Makhanya (right) after winning the Joburg Leg of the 2016 Spar Ladies 10km.

“I work extremely hard each time I get a baby. It has been two years, but it feels like it was a long time ago. It is important to exercise when you are pregnant. Listen to your body, and not come back into the sport too quickly. It is important to remain patient when you are in that position. We will not run forever, and there comes a time to settle down, get married, and have children. It is hard being a female athlete as pregnancy can slow down your career, but you must make a comeback,” she added.

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