American sitting volleyball star Lora Webster is competing in her fifth Paralympics at the 2020 Tokyo Games. This time, she’s doing it while pregnant with her fourth child.
“Physically I don’t feel any different when I’m playing, and this baby’s just along for the ride,” Webster said, according to Paralympic.org. She’ll be competing in the preliminary rounds with Team USA starting August 28.
A four-time Paralympic medalist, Webster announced her pregnancy on Instagram last month.
“4th baby + 5th Paralympic Games = here we come!” she wrote, adding that her baby is due in early 2022. “I didn’t expect to be heading into @tokyo2020 pregnant 🤰🏼but why not add this on top of what is already going to be a #ParalympicGames like no other !! With my family and @usav_sitting_wnt supporting me, the goal of GOLD remains the same.”
Tokyo will be the second Games Webster has competed in while pregnant—she was expecting her son Colton during the 2012 London Games, according to Paralympic.org.
“I know how to compete pregnant. My body knows what to do. I know how to make sure that I’m protecting the baby,” Webster said in the article. “But as far as competition goes, the goal is still the same and my effort and my dedication to getting that job done is still the same. This is just a circumstance of it.”
Webster, who turned 35 on August 26, started playing volleyball at age 5. At age 11, she was diagnosed with bone cancer in her left tibia and later underwent surgery to remove the cancerous bone, reports Team USA. As part of the procedure, her lower leg was rotated 180 degrees and connected to the remains of her femur. This gave her full range of movement and the ability to play sports.
In the time since, she’s not only played sports, but dominated them. Webster was named “Best Blocker” of the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, where she took home team gold. She also played on the silver medal-winning squads in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games, and won team bronze in the 2004 Games.
After taking a break from competition while carrying her first child, Webster expressed gratitude for her ability to compete in the Tokyo Games with baby number four in tow. “That was a really hard choice for me to give up that dream, to fulfill the other one,” she said of her first pregnancy, according to Paralympic.org. “So I know that I’m very fortunate to be able to have both right now, and that’s not something I take for granted.”
Webster joins a growing list of athletes who have participated in big-name competitions while expecting. Professional runner Alysia Montaño competed in multiple high-level races while pregnant, including the 800 meters at both the 2014 and 2017 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships while she was eight months and five months pregnant, respectively. Italian speed skater Martina Valcepina won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games while carrying twins. And U.S. volleyball star Kerri Walsh earned gold at the 2012 London Games while five weeks pregnant with her third child.
Exercising is safe and encouraged for most pregnant people, according to guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That said, all pregnant people—including elite athletes—should get thoroughly evaluated first to make sure there’s no medical reason to avoid exercise, the guidance says.
The U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team makes their Tokyo debut tomorrow, August 28, with a preliminary match against Rwanda. They’ll play another preliminary match against the Russian Paralympic Committee on Wednesday, September 1. The gold medal match, featuring the best performing teams from the prelims, classification, and semifinal rounds, will take place on Sunday, September 5.