With less than a year until she heads into her fifth Olympic Games, Kiwi athletics legend Dame Valerie Adams is in the thick of a gruelling training regime. After 20 years competing on the world stage, intense days in the gym and an aching body are second nature.
But this time, Valerie's campaign feels a little different – her support crew has gained two adorable new members since her last bid for sporting glory, and she's got even more to fight for.
"It's pretty crazy," she smiles as she welcomes Woman's Day into the Auckland home she shares with husband Gabriel Price and their children, Kimoana, who turns two on October 10, and six-month-old Kepaleli. "Being a mum has definitely made things harder in many ways, but it's also an amazing motivator. I'm not just doing it for me any more, I'm doing it for my kids."
The shot put champion, who turns 35 on October 6, and her IT specialist husband Gabriel, 34, are delighted to introduce their beautiful baby boy Kepaleli, who is lying happily on the carpet, kicking his legs and cooing at his besotted family. The bonny lad is a picture of health now, but his parents admit it was a different story when he arrived five weeks early on March 23.
"I woke in the night with cramps, and I usually have a very high pain threshold, but they were getting pretty intense so I thought I'd better call the obstetrician," recalls Valerie. "He said I needed to get straight to the hospital, so we jumped in the car and he arrived just a few hours later."
Born by Caesarean section at 9.35am, Kepaleli weighed in at an impressive 3.1kg. But as is often the case with premature babies, he was struggling to get enough oxygen into his under-developed lungs.
Gabe explains, "It was a bit scary, but we tried not to panic because we knew we were in the right place with the best care."
Doctors at Auckland City Hospital quickly decided Kepaleli – whose name means "Gabriel" in Tongan – needed to go to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, where he spent seven days in an incubator.
"It was very hard when they wheeled him off," shares Valerie. "Gabe went with him and I was left behind in recovery. It felt kind of wrong – you're meant to have your baby with you on your boob, not miles awayin another area."
After just a few hours, the determined mum insisted on being taken to see her newborn son in a wheelchair, but she soon realised she wasn't quite ready to have made the journey down the corridor!
"I had Kepaleli on my chest, but I felt myself getting lightheaded, so I quickly passed him to Gabe beforeI fainted. I ended up on the floor! The drugs hadn't gone out of my system and I should've waited, but I was just desperate to see him."
Fortunately, their little man got stronger every day, and after a week the couple, who are both half-Tongan, were finally able to take him home. Big sister Kimoana has quickly got used to the new arrival and loves nothing more than showering him in kisses.
"She loves him so much, but she's still young so we have to keep a bit of an eye on her when she's playing with him," admits Valerie.
"Sometimes she's giving him so much love, it looks like she's going to jump right on top of him. Or if she's helping give him a bottle, she'll be shoving it in with just a little bit too much enthusiasm."
Their firstborn is the bossy one of the pair, with little Kepaleli showing more of a chilled-out nature, according to his parents. "Kimoana definitely knows what she wants," laughs Valerie. "She's like her mother."
Like his big sister, Kepaleli was conceived with the help of IVF. Undiagnosed endometriosis had meant Valerie struggled to fall pregnant after she and Gabe wed, and following many months of disappointments, they were referred to fertility doctors for treatment. When it came to baby number two, they had just one embryo left, so the stakes were high.
"We had one more shot at it," shares Valerie, who adds that the timing was important to ensure she could recover from giving birth and resume training in time for Japan.
"We've been incredibly lucky." Speaking out about their battle to conceive was a brave move, but the sporting legend – who has won two Olympic golds and a silver – has been blown away by the positive response. Pacific Island women in particular have thanked her for helping to bring the issue into the open.
"It's seen as quite a taboo topic for us to talk about and far too often fertility issues are blamed on the mother, even though it's absolutely no-one's fault," she says.
"But it's so important to talk about it and encourage people just to go to the doctor for a chat if they're struggling to have a baby. There's no shame in it."
In fact, the couple thank "the man upstairs" for their double blessing. "They're our little miracles," tells Gabe, with tears in his eyes.
"We can't believe how lucky we are to have a girl and a boy."
While it certainly isn't easy training full-time and raising two little ones, Valerie and Gabe are fortunate to have the unwavering support of their extended family. And joining us at the photo shoot is Gabe's mum Noma, 56, who has given up her job as a teacher aide to help look after her grandchildren.
Each Sunday she farewells her husband and moves into the Adams-Price household, where she stays until Friday night. As well as loads of laundry and lawn mowing, she even gets up to baby Kepaleli in the night so that Valerie is fighting fit for her day's training.
"She's our saving grace," gushes Valerie, who explains that Noma has filled the gap in her life since losing her own beloved mother at just 15.
"I love her like a mother. I even call her 'Mum'. She's a true blessing for us."
Noma's incredible offer to live with the family during the week came about after the couple, who shared their wedding with Woman's Day in 2016, spoke to her about Valerie's dream to compete at the Olympics in Japan next year.
They needed to work out whether it would be remotely possible with Kimoana and Kepaleli in tow. "We have two kids and Gabe works full-time in IT – we were going to need some help," says Valerie matter-of-factly.
"We don't have nannies or au pairs in our culture; families tend to help each other out. But we weren't expecting such an amazing response. It blew us away."
Noma has even agreed to join Valerie – who was made a Dame in 2017 – and the children when she heads to Switzerland at the end of the year for a five-week training stint, and again for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
While some people have asked if it would be easier to leave the little ones at home, it's simply not an option for this devoted mother.
"I couldn't do it," she confesses. "That yearning for your kids is too strong. I have to do 10 days without them in Dubai later this year, and I'm already feeling a bit nervous about that. I might look like a tough person, but when it comes to my kids, I just fall over."
And Noma, who sits on the floor with her grandson lovingly cuddled in her arms throughout our interview, shrugs off any suggestion she's going beyond the call of duty. "I do it because I love them and I want Valerie to be successful in her sport," she explains.
"She has these goals and I'd like to do any-thing I can to support her to achieve them."
Noma says her daughter-in-law has warned her it'll be cold in Switzerland and there won't be much to do, but she's unfazed.
"I don't mind at all. We're not going for a holiday! We have a job to do and that's why we're going." Gabe is also an amazing support to his wife, and when Valerie points out that she can get a little grumpy sometimes, he won't hear a word of it.
"I am a thousand percent proud of her. Yes, she can be impatient, but it's an earned impatience because for the better part of 20 years she's dominated on the world stage. She has these things she needs to do and needs to achieve. Her focus and hard work are incredible. I'm in awe of her every day."
Training at full capacity after giving birth isn't easy, but Valerie – who won silver at the Commonwealth Games just six months after welcoming Kimoana – firmly believes she can do it. And she's determined to prove once again that motherhood shouldn't mean the end of your dreams.
"You're so exhausted and you've had so much taken out of you, but if you put your mind to it, you can do anything," she asserts. "You probably have to be a bit stupid and crazy, which is fine because I'm definitely a bit more stupid and crazy than most people! But I want to look back and have no regrets. I just want to be able to say 'We gave it our all.'"
As well as having an even bigger drive to succeed now she's a mother, she has also found a deeper level of happiness.
"For so many years I didn't have any balance at all. But now I have my 'mum hat' and my 'training hat', and I can take them on and off. This is much better. It's not just my journey any more, it's all of ours, and I want to enjoy it."
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