Nikkita Holder and husband Justyn Warner are expecting their first child, the latest chapter in an Olympic-sized love story that began way back when the hurdler and sprinter were childhood friends.
"It's what we both wanted, and for it to happen, it's kind of surreal," Warner said of his growing family. "We are both happy, very happy, excited."
Holder — the hurdler — is due Oct. 29, and has no intention of retiring from track.
She found out she was pregnant on a Saturday morning several weeks ago. Warner was spending the day at a tattoo parlour having the tattoo sleeve on his left arm finished. Warner chose an owl theme for the body art because it's his favourite animal, and Holder likes to tell him he's like an owl, quiet and observant.
Holder spent the day devising a plan to surprise the man she married last October in an "Old Hollywood" themed wedding. She settled on a jewellery box.
"Justyn is not a big fan of surprises or gifts," Holder said. "I said to him 'Baby I got you something.' I stuck the digital thing in the box and when he came home and opened it, literally his jaw dropped to the floor. It was really funny. We were pretty excited.'"
"My mouth was dropped for a good while," Warner said, laughing.
Holder, who turned 26 earlier this month and is about two months older than her husband, first met Warner when they were kids. Their moms were friends and pregnant at the same time. Holder likes to tell people they were "womb buddies."
They eventually fell in love on the track, the sport that took the Toronto natives to last summer's London Olympics. Holder made the semifinals in the 100-metre hurdles, while Warner made the semis in the 100 in a personal best 10.09 seconds.
Both will likely be better remembered though for the touching image of Holder consoling her heartbroken husband-to-be on the track in the moments following the disqualification of the men's 4x100-metre relay team. Warner ran anchor on the squad that crossed third only to be DQ'ed after Jared Connaughton stepped on the line between lanes.
Holder will be the second prominent Canadian hurdler to have a baby this year — her training partner and Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep is due to have her second child in August.
"I talk to Priscilla often, she and I are very close. I call her 'my sister from another mother.' She says the same thing about me," Holder said. "I definitely go to her for advice."
Holder said she's buoyed by the successful comebacks by Lopes-Schliep and fellow Canadian track mom Jessica Zelinka. Lopes-Schliep was Canada's fastest hurdler last season while Zelinka — whose washboard abs make it hard to believe she ever had a baby — broke her Canadian record in the heptathlon and won both the heptathlon and the 100-metre hurdles at last summer's Olympic trials.
"It definitely does kind of set the tone," Holder said. "It's like OK, they got back, so I have to come back. Definitely for me it was like, you can do this, it's not an impossible task. But sometimes I feel that outside sources make it seem like it can be an impossible task. But I don't think that it is.
"If you have the drive and the want and the hunger, and the right support, you can definitely do anything you want to do. They did it. I intend to do it as well."
Holder doesn't have to look far for support.
"We feed off each other so well, we always push each other," Warner said. "I don't think I've pushed her enough before. She doesn't know how strong she is, how fast she is and she doesn't push herself to that limit. That's what I'm going to do next year when she's coming back."
The two said the timing of Holder's pregnancy is ideal, three years out from the next Olympics.
"For her, the way she looks at it, she went to the Olympics, she did well, she's married, she has done a lot of stuff that most people haven't accomplished. So she's just enjoying right now," Warner said. "She wants to come back and make another run for Rio. Just come back and go strong.
"Next year is the Commonwealth Games (in Glasgow). She'll use that to get stronger and better, come back for worlds in 2015 and then the Olympics for 2016."
In the meantime, Holder does pilates and lifts weights three times a week and is about to begin doing pool workouts.
The current track season is starting to gear up for Warner, who will race Saturday in the Adidas Grand Prix in New York, then head west for the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. This summer's focus is the world championships in Moscow in August.
He's already spent a month away at training camp, and the two say spending so much time apart will take some getting used to.
"We realized how much time we spend together, at the track, at meets, everywhere," Warner said. "It's something new for us to get used to, that we're not always going to be together."
Holder, who ran track at the University of Illinois, is spending her time away from her sport catching up on all she's missed. She had just spent the day at her sister's track meet. Shaleah, who's 12, runs hurdles and also plays soccer.
Her brothers are also athletes. Trystan, 18, plays football, and Ashton, 16, runs track and plays soccer.
"I missed out on a lot of that," so I'm taking part in all of that with my siblings," she said.
Considering the gene pool, there's a pretty good chance their baby will be fast.
"We were like, I don't know if I can put my child through track, with our history," Warner said. "I never would have wanted to have done that if our parents were Olympians, to kind of have to follow their footsteps. So we said hopefully we could it in another sport. But it is what it is, if they want to run track, they'll run track."
The two know the gender of the baby, but have only told a couple close friends. Their parents don't want to know.
Warner posted a picture of the sonogram on Twitter recently, writing "Look what I made #4months #October #JusKita."
Lopes-Schliep and Zelinka are among a growing list of athletic moms. American Lashinda Demus, silver medallist in the 400 hurdles at the London Games, is the mom of twin boys. Plus, there have been numerous other women — Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters and British marathoner Paula Radcliffe are two — who've rebounded from pregnancy stronger than ever.Suggest a correction