The Covid-19 lockdown has been tough on women in sport who have found it difficult to find a rhythm while being home bound.
For World Surfski League Champion, Hayley Nixon, she has never been happier to miss a season of racing, as she is pregnant with her first child.
Nixon shared her excitement on social media as she announced that she and her partner Paul are set to become first-time parents.
In her Instagram post, Nixon said, “Me and the baby bump still getting out and about for morning exercise…can’t be focussing on local surfski races, Molokai or the Australian Ocean Racing series events anymore but still want to be a healthy and fit mom-to-be!”
As sports stars around the world are frustrated with the Covid-19 lockdown putting their careers on hold, Nixon is grateful that this period has afforded her the opportunity to deal with the challenges that come with the first trimester.
Nixon admits that her life will never be the same when she gives birth in November as she will have to juggle family, online coaching and her surfski career, which demands a lot of traveling.
But, she is used to wearing many caps. Since her sporting career officially began in 2013, Nixon has managed to shuffle her Biokinetics career, while winning the ICF Ocean Racing World Champs in 2017 and breaking the record with her 2018 Maui Jim Molokai Challenge victory.
She plans to use her story to inspire more women who are beginning to take surfski and paddling as a career choice because of the equality which let women to do what they love, while being backed by sponsors, and receiving equal prize money in international competitions.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Nixon chats about the challenges she experienced at the beginning of her paddling career and her plans to continue paving the way for young women paddlers.
Hayley, congratulations to you on the news of your pregnancy as you are set to become a first-time parent! What’s the feeling like?
It feels totally amazing to be pregnant! Paul and I have always wanted to have a family, but we agreed that we wanted to chase some goals and tick a few boxes before we took the family plunge. The last two or three years for me have been particularly crazy with training, racing and extensive travel and my focus really has been surfski racing and my Biokinetics and coaching career, but something about having a baby this year just felt right for both of us so we made up our minds to try and we were just absolutely amazed and grateful when we fell pregnant so quickly in early February.
How is it dealing with your pregnancy during this unprecedented time of COVID-19 lockdown?
I must admit that lockdown has provided some positives for pregnancy! The first trimester was quite tough with endless nausea all day, every day and hectic exhaustion. I would sleep for a couple of hours during the day, every day, and really battled with nausea so being ‘stuck at home’ was actually quite helpful as there was no pressure to be anywhere, make it through meetings, long days or training sessions.
Most women don’t openly admit to being pregnant for at least 8 weeks if not longer so at least I didn’t have the temptation to tell friends and paddling colleagues or clients because I wasn’t able to see anyone ?.
The one really unfortunate part is that Paul has not been allowed into the hospital for either of our two baby scans due to Covid-19 health and safety restrictions. So as first-time parents this was really tough for him, he was just as excited as me to see our baby under ultrasound! Nevertheless, our wonderful gynie allows me to video the scans and it’s been a real treat for us to share those happy videos.
We’re sure that you had to make some sacrifices along the way to make this process a success…
I think as a female athlete we face an incredibly unique situation that males will never fully understand, and male athletes don’t experience in the same way. To be pregnant and then be mom to a new-born means sacrificing being a competitive athlete for some portion if not all of that time and who knows how much longer afterwards.
“It’s quite scary and a daunting choice to make but I knew that we wanted to put our family first and I know that there will be new opportunities and if I want to race again afterwards then that too will be available to me.” – World Surfski League Champion, Hayley Nixon
I am so excited to become a mom, but it meant I had to let go of my racing career and face any fallout or losses that come with that. It’s quite scary and a daunting choice to make but I knew that we wanted to put our family first and I know that there will be new opportunities and if I want to race again afterwards then that too will be available to me.
Apart from dealing with your pregnancy, how are you training during this time?
I have been doing home gym workouts most days and was incredibly lucky to borrow a Concept2 rowing machine from a neighbour, so I have had some cardio options too, thank goodness! The Biokineticist I work with, Lynne Mackey has kept us going with home gym workouts and I’ve followed a few online PTs who specialise in pregnancy training, so it has been fun and a lot of learning for me too.
We have an online coaching programme called Wild Dog and so I’ve also been following our training programme sessions when I can along with our athletes over the world so there has been a lot of stimulus available. It has been awesome to be able to walk and run outside now, what a game-changer for fitness and peace of mind!
You have had a glittering career from the get-go. Where does your passion for paddling come from?
Shew, I wouldn’t say glittering from the get-go ?…
I spent a long-time scratching at the back of paddling sessions, falling out my boat, tripping on portages, and lacking plenty skill out at sea! I think the passion for paddling came because once I sat in a boat and could actually get it moving, especially when paddling in the ocean, I just felt like this was the best sport I had ever done!
After the heartbreak of rowing not going my way I had so much more I wanted to do as an athlete and paddling looked like it may hold new opportunity for me so I went into it with as much drive and commitment as I had given to trying to make the 2012 Olympics for rowing. Thankfully surfski paddling turned out with better results ?.
When did you officially get involved in sport?
I started paddling a little bit at the end of 2012, but I think I officially gave it a go early 2013.
You are also qualified in Sports Science and Biokinetics. Please tell us more about your educational background.
I did a BSc undergraduate degree in Human Kinetics & Ergonomics and Industrial Psychology at Rhodes University which is where I fell in love with rowing. Thereafter rowing led me to Pretoria, so I signed up at the University of Pretoria to do my Honours Degree in Sports Science and then Biokinetics, whilst rowing as much as possible.
Which comes first for you – your profession as a Biokineticist or your sporting career?
For most of my adult life it has been a tricky scale to manage both of those as equal priorities. I have always had to work to cover my expenses, so I just had to make both of them successful. I am incredibly grateful that I loved my work as a Biokineticist and therefore it was easy to enjoy both.
Bio also allowed a fairly flexible work schedule so I was grateful that I could fit in my paddling training and take leave where necessary for racing and travels. I did resign from Biokinetics two years ago and changed my work to online coaching so that I had the freedom to spend more time racing and touring overseas whilst being able to work at the same time from anywhere in the world, which was hugely beneficial. It was still a huge risk but I’m making it happen!
How do you manage to juggle everything that you do?
I should be in the circus for these juggling skills ?. I guess I don’t always get it right, but I just do my best to not bite off more than I can chew. To coach sessions when I can, to manage my online clients well, train and race smart and still be a good wife to Paul. It’s a challenge sometimes but I like being busy and I’m grateful for what these last few years have done for Paul and I. We have had incredible life experiences and amazing racing career, so it was worth any tough months.
What are your views on the women’s side of the paddling community? Women’s paddling, equality and the development of women’s paddling and our profile in the sport have all been incredibly important to me. I have no doubt that we have changed many aspects over the last few years and put out heads on the chopping block a few times but always benefited from those tough conversations or testing times.
“We have also seen is an increase in the number of women paddling, more competitive women’s racing and a lift in the overall performance of women so much so that we are starting to beat more of the men, man-on-man ha-ha.” – Hayley Nixon
Men and women receive equal prize money in most international races now, sponsors are supporting more women and media covers women’s racing as much as the men (most of the time!). But what we have also seen is an increase in the number of women paddling, more competitive women’s racing and a lift in the overall performance of women so much so that we are starting to beat more of the men, man-on-man ha-ha, so it’s been awesome for all of us and I’m proud to have been part of that catalyst and journey.
From your racing achievements, you have paved the way for young female paddlers. What are your plans to ensure that females get more recognition and equal the playing field?
To carry on as we are. To coach. To race. To lead by example and show what a great sport paddling is and to respectfully represent sponsors and coaches, brands, and races to showcase this sport as professional. Whether you are racing for top 100 or top of the podium, it is an exceptionally fun and satisfying sport that I wish every person, regardless of gender, would try! You won’t look back! And you can always learn and improve. My favourite group of paddlers the Geriatskis, who have taught me so much, still humble me every Saturday with their ocean skill, many of them being 50 and over!
What advice do you share with young paddlers who are gunning to make their dreams a reality?
Focus on what you can do to make it happen, not what’s in the way. Be patient, success usually doesn’t happen quickly and most of the time you have to really, really want it, you can’t just rely on talent – hard work and smart work really pays off!
What have been your biggest highlights of your career so far?
My two biggest racing highlights are winning the ICF Ocean Racing World Champs in Hong Kong in 2017, it was an absolute career changer and dream come true. Secondly, was winning the 2018 Maui Jim Molokai Challenge in Hawaii, and breaking the record! The race, trip and entire experience was a fairy-tale and a race I never thought I would be able to attend. And, I must mention that neither of those wins would have been possible without the help of my coach and training squad but also the sponsors who have supported me and been on board with me through my paddling journey!
With a new addition to your family, how do you think this is going to have an impact on your plans on competing abroad?
The reality is that Covid-19 has already removed a lot of that anxiety for this year. It is unlikely that any of the main events I could have gone to will happen so in some ways we picked a good year to start a family, ironically enough. Our baby is due in November and I’d like to think that I’ll be back racing the local surfski circuit early in the new year.
Thereafter I guess we will have to see if I can get to the Freedom Paddle in Cape Town in April which will be one of the first big races on the calendar… from there on the calendar heats up so we will have to wait and see what Mommy Nixon can do!
I love the idea of teaming up with a junior or someone else to do some of the big races and I think I could add a lot of value that way so it may not necessarily be me coming back to fight for individual titles, it may be time to give back. Time will tell, the competitive edge still burns though!
What are you hoping to achieve before you retire from sports?
I am very satisfied with what I have achieved personally, I’m not sure I will ever really retire but my priorities and goals may alter. I would love to see the sport of surfski become as professional as surfing or golf at that. That may be a pipe dream, excuse the pun, but it’s one worth striving for!
Photo 1 Caption: Hayley Nixon shared her excitement on social media as she announced that her and her partner Paul, are set to become first-time parents. Photo: Supplied (Hayley Nixon)
Photo 2 Caption: In her Instagram post, Nixon said, “Me and the baby bump still getting out and about for morning exercise…can’t be focussing on local surfski races, Molokai or the Australian Ocean Racing series events anymore but still want to be a healthy and fit mom-to-be!” Photo: Supplied (Hayley Nixon)
Photo 3 Caption: Since her sporting career officially began in 2013, Nixon has managed to shuffle her Biokinetics career, while winning the ICF Ocean Racing World Champs in 2017 and breaking the record with her 2018 Maui Jim Molokai Challenge victory. Photo: Supplied (Hayley Nixon)
Photo 4 Caption: She plans to use her story to lead the way as more females are beginning to take surfski and paddling as a career choice due to the equality that affords women to do what they love, while being backed up by sponsors and receiving equal prize money in international competitions. Photo: Supplied (Hayley Nixon)
Photo 5 Caption: Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Nixon chats about the challenges she experienced at the beginning of her paddling career and her plans to continue paving the way for young females in surfing. Photo: Supplied (Hayley Nixon)