The road to gold isn’t anything like what Elisabeth Maier expected.
“I thought, like, just becoming a mom in 2020 and working on a comeback would be enough,” the 26-year-old Olympian said. “It’s like I’m living in the Twilight Zone.”
The skeleton athlete was living in Austria with her husband, fellow athlete Benjamin Maier, when she had her first child Hendrix late last year.
Things took a turn when Hendrix was hospitalized with a case of meningitis at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m in a German-speaking hospital for a week and had to leave him in the ICU by himself for a night,” Maier recalled. “That was easily the worst experience of my life.”
Her family is living on separate continents for the time being, with Benjamin training in Europe for his upcoming season.
Benjamin missing out on his son’s first Halloween has become the unexpected inspiration for much of Elisabeth’s training.
When Benjamin helped pick out a dragon costume for Hendrix, no one expected the eight-month-old to become so attached to it.
Now, a little green dragon has become a mainstay at the Glenmore Athletic Park in Calgary during his mom’s training sessions.
“He comes and hangs out with the team and he gets to be a part of it, and I get to still be Elisabeth,” Maier said. “I think sometimes it’s hard for moms when you have your baby and focus on baby completely, which is totally important. You’re trying to keep a little human alive, but it’s also important to be you. You don’t want to lose your identity.”
Maier hopes to crack the roster for the Beijing Olympics, which are currently scheduled for 2022.
It’s been on her mind since she wrapped up her first Olympic competition, where she placed ninth in Pyeongchang.
“Both days I had poor first heats, and I came back and lay down the fastest heat and the second-fastest heat. I showed I am still a fighter.”
She started training just six weeks after Hendrix was born.
At first, workouts consisted of walking stairs for hours on end, working her way up to running, weights, and in early September, a return to her Olympic-level physical ability.
The biggest challenge, however, is a baby that does not like to sleep.
Thankfully, Maier’s parents are only too happy to help out.
“All athletes should be able to finish on their own terms,” said Rita Vathje, Maier’s mother. “A baby just adds a different dimension to it but it does not take away from her abilities and it doesn’t take away from her drive. It adds to it. I think she has more to race for now.”
Maier is also holding a drive-thru dinner and bottle drive to help fund her Olympic effort.
Skeleton athletes won’t know what the upcoming season will look like for another two weeks, but Maier is ramping up her training with a bigger picture in mind.
“The goal isn’t just to go to the Olympics anymore,” Maier said. “It’s to be on that podium and represent the moms out there and hopefully encourage my son to chase his dreams and have the moms chase their goals too.”