Nia Ali, athlete, and mom

In Zurich 2023, the Weltklasse sponsor, UBS, staged an event in which Nia Ali and her partner André de Grasse discussed family life in a household of two elite track athletes.

Nia said that 2016 had been an exceptional year for her. In 2015, her son, Titus, was born, and she had competed only once – indoors in December. In 2016, she won the World Indoors (in Portland) and the silver medal at the Rio Olympics. The Olympic medal was particularly satisfying “because it was the Olympics, and that was my first outdoor medal. I had celebrated the World Indoors with Titus, who was my firstborn. Rio was my first time getting an outdoor medal because I was previously known as an indoor specialist. So to come back 15 months after having Titus and get that medal – as well at the Olympic Games- was just like the starting point of something huge for me”.

Nia Ali and Andre De Grasse, Zurich Weltklasse, photo by Welktlasse

In terms of managing life, now with a second child, she explained: “I think for us, I always say, a lot of compartmentalization like we’re here right now [September 2023], and this is one of the most challenging times just because school has started back. So, even on the weekend of Worlds, I had to spread out my days and map out my week according to when I would talk to teachers.

She talked about her and André working together like any couple, recognizing when the other one “needed space to just solely focus on themselves, just even if it’s for maybe a few hours or so, just giving each other that space so we can perform at  60% or 40% to meet each other to be at 100% for the children and for our athletics. It has just been a process of figuring all of that out.”

Nia Ali, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, by Kevin Morris

She also talked about how it varied according to the time of the year, with the fall mainly being spent getting the kids ready for school, getting their routine back, and before beginning to prepare their own minds for a new season so that by the time they needed to be entirely focused on training, the kids were in their routine.

Where possible, the kids travel with them to events and get an insight into their professional lives. Nia says, “We kind of excite them, like, hey, we train really hard, we can make these teams and see these cool places. Hopefully, it motivates them to work really hard in school.”

Nia Ali took gold in the Portland WIC 2016, photo by World Athletics

In an exchange that most couples will recognize, André said it was 50/50 for taking kids to their activities. Nia replied, “More like 70/30!”

I remarked to Nia that I associated her with the cohort of Dawn Harper-Nelson, Sally Pearson, Sharika Nelvis, etc., but that she was almost the only one left – did being a mom somehow extend her longevity? Nia’s thoughtful reply was: “Perhaps: Just having those breaks where I didn’t do this sport, but I could still see it  – like I’m not the type that if I’m not a part of it, I’m not going to watch. I’m still a fan. So I think watching that while I was pregnant and having that time off would be like a chance to ask: ‘Who am I outside of track?’ It gave me a better idea of who I wanted to be when I returned each time. I think it did help. Just having those – was it three years off. Perhaps just breaking it up and gave me more longevity”.

USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023

My other question was how she reacted with such apparent calm and grace when she false-started in the Eugene 2022 World Champs when she had the chance to defend her World Championship in her own country. Again, I wondered how being a mom played into that.

“Yeah, possibly like André was talking about, as parents need to learn patience and teach the kids patience. That allowed me not to be so hard on myself. I mean, I knew going into that race that anything could happen. I didn’t expect it, but I knew there was always a possibility that things wouldn’t go my way. So before I get out there, I tell myself I should just be able to accept whatever the outcome is. And that was a hard one. I was shocked at the time, but I knew that from that moment I got knocked down, I knew I was coming back harder. I thought this would be crazy next year, and it started to be very good. I did have a PR, and in Budapest, I cleared the first and second rounds, but then I hit a hurdle in the final. So now I’m excited for Paris”.

Fascinating insights from a great athlete and a classy lady.