There’s something about backcountry snowboarding that has kept Nicole Paton coming back to mountains at the earliest signs of snow in the Victorian high country. Maybe it’s the hours of arduous climbing in waist deep snow just to reach a particularly delectable looking line. The stripping of the skins off her splitboard with hands trembling with anticipation. The heart clenching moment when she pushes off down the mountain, plunging into the unknown with adrenaline rushing through her veins, feeling the sudden rush of frozen air whip her face and the ground give from underneath her, the sharp edge of her board silently slicing through the silky unsoiled powder. It’s become an essential part of her, one she has recently been able to share with a little spectator with a front seat to the snow show.
As a competitive wakeboarder in her earlier years, and now an ultramarathon runner, backcountry snowboarder and overall lover of the outdoors with a fiercely competitive streak, Nicole has juggled the joys and challenges of pregnancy and exercising. Both fuelled by her deep love of sports and the fear of pushing herself too hard and affecting her pregnancy, she highlights the importance of talking about how active women often suffer from exercise guilt and the paranoia of miscarriage. “It’s a constant dilemma of wanting to do the things I love without causing harm to my baby. The problem is that the boundaries aren’t clearly defined, and active pregnancies are only just starting to be widely-accepted outside of sporting communities,” she says.
She has been highly cautious of managing her own expectations for herself as well as her body’s. At 22 weeks pregnant, after a jam packed snowboarding winter, she is handing in the keys to ultra distance running and snowboarding; “I’ve been able to enjoy the majority of a phenomenal ski season snow-wise, but I’m starting to feel the strain of climbing uphill, I’m getting breathless faster and my fitness isn’t where it used to be. And similarly with running, I’m still enjoying running for fun, but I’m wary of keeping my heartrate down and not going for excessive amounts of time.”
Nicole’s decision to keep snowboarding and exercising through the first term of her pregnancy was widely supported by her partner and the active community around her, but still wasn’t immune to a few raised eyebrows : “as I got further into the pregnancy, I definitely got more conservative in my choice of lines. I never went out in the backcountry alone, and always carried avalanche equipment. But I never felt like I was putting us in the way of unnecessary danger.” Both Nicole and her husband hold avalanche training certifications, with experience snowboarding in high risk areas such as Colorado and Kashmir. Nicole is realistic about the risks she takes while exercising, and also aware that these risks are just as present in her everyday life; “external risk is the same whether you’re pregnant; whether we like it or not, there is risk in everything we undertake and I don’t think that ceasing to do the things I love is going to change that.”
Nicole has found a wealth of information and support online from the sporting female community, and finds that reading about other women’s experiences with their active pregnancies has been the best way for her to adjust her own level of exercise: “despite the fact that all medical evidence debunks the myth that exercise isn’t beneficial to pregnant women, it doesn’t help with the fear or guilt of miscarriage, especially since my standards of what is “normal” in sports is different to the average. It’s been really good for me to talk to other mothers and follow their journeys.” She highlights the importance of being vocal about these issues; “the more we talk about it, the more normal and accepted it will become, and the more guilt will be lifted off women. At the end of the day, I feel like I know my body the best, and I’m comfortable deciding what’s uncomfortable for me.”
Nicole looks forward to enjoying the rest of her active pregnancy, turning to lower-impact sports such as hiking and strength training to get her endorphin fix, but her post-partum goals are never far off her mind; she is aiming to toe the line at the Surf Coast Century 100km ultramarathon nine months after the birth, with a new supporter cheering her on from the sidelines.