The very best part of Caitlin Regal's day is always the moment she gets home from work and her excited toddler Luna dives on top of her for a play-fight.
"I love seeing Luna having fun and being happy," says the champion kayaker, 31. "Those times when we're having a bit of a rumble and play are when I feel really connected to her."
In 2022, Caitlin won Olympic gold alongside Dame Lisa Carrington in the K2 500m event in Tokyo. Standing on that podium was a glorious feeling, but life as a mum is even more rewarding and she has no regrets about retiring from the sport ahead of the next Games in Paris.
Originally, Caitlin's plan was to start a family, then get back into competing as quickly as possible. Everyone in the sport was supportive and she didn't see any reason why she shouldn't manage it.
But Caitlin says, "After my final event in Tokyo, I had this split-second feeling of, 'OK, cool, I'm done.' When I got back to New Zealand, I spent 14 days in quarantine and that gave me the space to figure things out. It was scary not knowing what was next for me, but it was also exciting."
Just a couple of months later, Caitlin (née Ryan) and her husband Nick were thrilled to discover they had a baby on the way.
She recalls, "A lot of our friends had struggled to get pregnant and we didn't know how it would be for me after putting my body under so much stress as an athlete for such a long period of time. So I think we were lucky."
On the whole, Caitlin had an easy pregnancy, with no morning sickness at all. Still, it was a big adjustment at first.
"The most challenging part for me was my body changing," admits the Aucklander. "I was used to training three times a day and being at peak fitness. Looking back, even as an athlete, I was hard on myself and critical of my body. I struggled with my weight at times. Now I see old photos and think, 'Why didn't I just enjoy it and feel proud of that physicality?' because I'll probably never be in that sort of shape again."
As her bump grew bigger, then bigger, Caitlin started to embrace her changing shape and appreciated this new amazing thing her body was capable of. "For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt really comfortable with it."
Born in August last year, Luna Maeve Regal was a very large baby, weighing in at 4.7kg and her arrival wasn't drama-free. She was two weeks overdue and Caitlin had been through a couple of days of on-off contractions when she started to get a sense that something was wrong, so she headed into hospital, but it was already overwhelmed with mothers giving birth.
"They tried to send me home with painkillers, but I was sure things weren't right and I wasn't leaving until I'd had my baby," recalls Caitlin. "They said I'd have to wait for a C-section, but then they found meconium in my waters and the baby was showing signs of distress, so they fast-tracked me."
During the procedure, Caitlin lost two litres of blood, so she wasn't able to hold Luna straightaway afterward. It might not have been the easiest birth experience, but mum and baby were healthy, and that was what really mattered.
"Luna" means moon in Italian and it wasn't their first choice for a girl's name. For a while, she was going to be Florence, but while Caitlin was pregnant, several other women she knows used the name for their babies, so Nick suggested Luna instead. Now it seems meant to be, particularly as the little girl was born on a full moon.
"She's definitely a Luna – a crazy moon child," smiles Caitlin, who describes her daughter as a high-energy, adventurous firecracker. "I can't imagine her as anything else now. She started walking just before 10 months, loves swimming and has already been on a surfboard. She's a really happy, inquisitive baby and very confident."
Naturally, Caitlin's Instagram page features lots of cute baby pics, but she is also very honest on social media about the darker moments that motherhood can bring – the guilt, feelings of failure and the fear of getting things wrong.
"There are lots of challenges along the way and I don't have everything sorted," she admits. "But none of us does and we should be OK to talk about that."
As a competitive, goal-driven person, Caitlin had high expectations of herself as a mother and has had to let some of them go. "I was going to prioritise training four or five times a week and breast-feed for a year, but life happens," she says.
Now juggling parenting with a job in corporate sales, Caitlin's time is limited and she's had to accept it is impossible to do everything.
"I went back to work when Luna was five months old, and I felt like there was a lot of pressure and judgement on me for that, which was probably the most challenging thing for me," she shares. "It affected me for a while, but then I thought about it and decided, 'No, this is the best thing for my family.'"
Caitlin says husband Nick, a landscape gardener, is an amazing dad who goes above and beyond to support his family. The pair have known each other since they were little kids in surf life-saving and started dating at the age of 16.
"We're best mates and we've got each other's back," says Caitlin. "Nick was a huge part of getting me to the start line at the Olympics and he's been supportive with whatever I've wanted to do. We also really know how to wind each other up!"
Caitlin might not be a kayaker any more, but she's still involved with the sport from dry land, helping however she can and often catching up with old team-mates such as Dame Lisa – or "Aunty Lisa" as Luna calls her.
"Lisa and I spent every day together for a long period of time," tells Caitlin. "We were like family. I don't feel I need to be an athlete, but I do want to be around the sport and keep contributing to its future."
Before she had Luna, it always seemed to Caitlin that she wasn't a particularly maternal type and that's another thing she's had to readjust her ideas about.
"I love being a mum," she asserts. "I never thought I'd love it as much as I do. I feel like it's the one thing I'm truly good at. In sport, you have to train to get better, but this naturally clicked for me. I'm so in love with this little human being. Originally, we said we'd aim for two children and now I'm like, 'Give me five. Give me six. I want all the kids!' Nick has to tell me to rein it in!
"If we're lucky to have more kids some day, then that's something we'd be really grateful for."
- CompetitionsBe in to win a huge book prize package valued at $650!
Now To LoveToday 9:00am
- Real LifeWhy a brain injury won't stop Miriam Ellis from getting back on her bike
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyYesterday 6:00am
- CompetitionsBe in to win a Bondi Sands care package worth $200
Now To LoveDec 02, 2023
- Celebrity NewsFormer Shortland Street star Holly Shervey's wild year
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyDec 01, 2023
- Celebrity NewsTeuila Blakely reflects on the job that changed her life
Woman's DayDec 01, 2023
- Celebrity NewsThe Breeze host Robert Scott on what he loves most about Christmas
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 30, 2023
- Celebrity NewsOlympic hero Ellesse Andrews' secret to her success
Woman's DayNov 30, 2023
- Celebrity NewsCoast radio host Jason Reeves on his favourite Christmas childhood memories
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 30, 2023
- Real LifeBoxing’s power couple: Alina and Isaac are changing lives
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 29, 2023
- Beauty NewsSplurge or Steal! Makeup alternatives that won't break the bank
Woman's DayNov 29, 2023