A large part of being a world-class athlete is meticulous preparation.
But nothing could have prepared Annamay Pierse and Mark Oldershaw for the arrival of their first child — almost three months early.
A couple of weeks after Oldershaw carried Canada’s flag into the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Games and then paddled to a canoe silver medal, Pierse gave birth Aug. 4 to their daughter Josephine, who arrived well before her late-October due date, and weighed a tiny two-and-a-half pounds.
“It was quite a surprise,” Oldershaw said.
The baby remains in hospital for monitoring, but Oldershaw said they hope to bring her home in the next couple of weeks.
“She’s had her little issues, but it’s mostly all good things since (her birth). She’s doing very well now,” Oldershaw said. “She’s been growing and feeding really well.
“It’s tough now, she’s doing so well, we just want to take her home, but at the same time it’s better to be safe.”
Oldershaw, an Olympic bronze medallist in 2012, was in Montreal for training camp, preparing for the world championships, when he received a call from Pierse, a retired swimmer, to come home to Toronto.
“It just happened so fast. We had planned it so that she would be born in the fall, which was the off-season, so I’d be home to support (Pierse),” Oldershaw said. “So we hadn’t even planned how we were getting to the hospital, and everything like that.”
The 32-year-old Oldershaw raced at the world championships in Milan in late August, because it was an Olympic qualifying event. He didn’t qualify, finishing ninth, but will have another chance in May.
“It was really hard to be there, and try to focus on the race, I didn’t actually want to be there, in my heart,” said the Burlington, Ont., native. “I was just so worn down mentally and emotionally, it kind of just took a toll. At that high level of sport, those little things make a difference.”
Oldershaw and Pierse, a former world-record holder in the 200-metre breaststroke, spend their days at the hospital with Josephine. Oldershaw, who majored in English, is reading “Little Women” to his daughter. One of the main characters is “Jo,” or Josephine.
The bronze medallist in the C-1 1,000 metres at the 2012 London Olympics said being a dad has already made a huge impact on training.
“It’s that whole life-balance thing, it puts things in perspective,” he said. “It hasn’t taken anything away from my motivation, I’m still super motivated in training. It’s even better because I’m in such a good place, I’m so happy to have this little girl, and get off the water and go see her.
“It’s pretty incredible getting to hold her. They say it’s really good for the baby to hold her as much as possible, but I just find it so good for me, to hold her, it’s such a calming and nice feeling.”
The 31-year-old Pierse has had a rough few years physically. She contracted dengue fever at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and was ill for months. She didn’t make the 2012 Olympic team and retired soon after.
“She likes to do things the hard way, she says,” Oldershaw said. “No easy road.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press