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Gold medal moms: Two Vietnamese professional athletes juggle motherhood and pro sports

Saturday, September 28, 2019, 09:09 GMT+7
Gold medal moms: Two Vietnamese professional athletes juggle motherhood and pro sports
Nguyen Thi Huyen at an women’s athletics event. Photo: Nam Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Striking a balance between work and home life is difficult for any professional, but  the balancing act becomes much more difficult when your job involves traveling the world and winning gold medals for your country.

Bui Thi Thu Thao and Nguyen Thi Huyen, both professional athletes who’ve represented Vietnam in international competitions, are learning first-hand the difficulties of juggling professional sports and family as the grapple with their desires for success in both sports and motherhood.

‘Having a child is my greatest happiness’

Long jumper Bui Thi Thu Thao took the country by surprise when she withdrew from Team Vietnam ahead of the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games slated to be hosted by the Philippines from November 30 to December 11, 2019.

Thao, 27, was one of Vietnam’s medal hopefuls for the biennial regional sporting event after she took home gold in the women’s long jump at the 2018 Asian Games (Asiad) in Indonesia, making history as the first-ever Vietnamese track-and-field athlete to place first at Asiad.

Now, after submitting a withdrawal letter to the General Department of Sporting and Physical Training, Thao is trading in her track spikes for some personal time to recover from injury and mulling over the decision to embark on a new challenge: motherhood.

The Asian medalist told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday that she is considering using her time away from professional sports to become a mother, something she’s put on hold since her marriage four years ago in order to focus on her career as an athlete.

“I hope I have a chance to become a mother during my time away,” Thao said.

"I’m not so young anymore."

“Having a child in 2020 would be my greatest happiness,” the woman said, adding that she also expects that she’d make a professional comeback after her pregnancy.

Long jumper Bui Thi Thu Thao. Photo: Nam Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Long jumper Bui Thi Thu Thao. Photo: Nam Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Over the course of her 14-year sporting career Thao has endured back and thigh injuries, while a tight schedule has kept her from completing a full recover regimen.

Thao’s most recent accomplishment includes taking home gold at the National Youth Athletics Championship 2019 by jumping 6.37 meters in the women’s long jump event, earning her a spot on Team Vietnam for the for the 2019 SEA Games – an opportunity she’s chosen to pass on in lieu of a shot at motherhood.

The return of a sports mother

While Bui Thi Thu Thao will officially suspend her career beginning October 1, Vietnam’s track-and-field squad will be welcoming Southeast Asian champion Nguyen Thi Huyen back to the team.

Huyen, the ‘queen’ of the SEA Games in the 2015 and 2017 women’s 400m and 400m hurdle events has made a comeback to professional sports after giving birth just six months ago, according to the General Department of Sporting and Physical Training.

At the National Youth Athletics Championship 2019, the first competition since her return, Huyen clocked a time of 58.25 seconds in the women’s 400m hurdles and reached the finish line at the women’s 400 m in just 53.86 seconds.

Though the performances are far from her best and don’t qualify her to represent Vietnam in the SEA Games, they are impressive for a new mother, according to Vietnam’s national athletics head coach Vu Ngoc Loi.

“From now until the SEA Games takes place in the Philippines, Huyen’s performances will continue to improve,” he added with confidence.

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