Aussie sevens star Emilee Cherry will return to action soon with the advantage of feeling like “Superwoman” after giving birth to daughter Alice almost seven months ago.
But all superheroes have their version of kryptonite.
"I think sevens training is tougher, some times,” Cherry joked.
"Like, I absolutely hate ice baths. And people say “But you have given birth!”. I think ice baths are worse than giving birth.”
Cherry really hates ice baths.
But they’re no doubt a little bit easier to handle for the 27-year-old sevens gun after the difficult, trailblazing and rewarding journey she has been on across the last two years.
The Rio gold medallist and former World Sevens Player of the year is on track to make a comeback to action in the next few weeks, likely at the Sydney Sevens, after almost 18 months on the sidelines.
Cherry announced joyfully in January last year she was pregnant with partner Dan and would be stepping away from her career, but with the firm aim of being back in the Aussie sevens team in time to defend their Olympic title in Tokyo in July 2020.
It was largely uncharted territory for a female professional footballer.
Fellow Olympic champion Nicole Beck had paved the way by having her three-year-old daughter Sophie with her in Rio, and later had another daughter Harper while a member of the Aussie sevens squad in 2017. Beck returned to training but did not make it back on the field for Australia.
Beck had to battle her way back under ad hoc maternity arrangements, but Cherry's announcement saw Rugby Australia and RUPA formalise the game's first official pregnancy policy to better support her and other future mums.
And while she obviously stopped all contact, Cherry continued supervised training right up to the birth of daughter Alice in June, 2019.
"It was uncharted waters, especially going into contact sport,” Cherry said.
"We have seen other women in sport going through (after childbirth) but the demands our sport puts on your body is absolutely huge, there are so many different physical components that you need.
"Leading into it I was lucky to train right up, I stopped running around six months or so and went to off-feet and gym work. I went to the gym right up until I had Alice and I think that put me in good stead for post (birth), being relatively fit and feeling good, my body was able to bounce back quickly.
"The first few days you think you’re never going to walk again but then your body does kick back into gear. I ran at about 11 weeks post, and leading into that doing really light core and pelvic work straight away.”
Cherry and the strength and conditioning trainers of the Aussie women’s sevens, Tom Carter and Nathan Parnham, searched high and low for similar case studies of new mothers returning to contact sport but without much luck, built much of the program themselves.
"Lots of it was trial and error and led by Nath, who did his research, and Tom as well, and they'd said: 'okay, these are your parameters today … let’s see how the body responds',” Cherry said.
Cherry approached the path back to playing along the same lines of “rehab” from an injury.
"I probably looked at it like that. It gave me lots of time to work on lots of things,” she said.
"When you are injured with a sports injury, you have a specific area to work on. Whereas with me it was kind of a whole body rehab program and I guess I really enjoyed that, having time to work on my weaknesses and build my strengths as well.”
There were moments of doubt, and Cherry admits after being an elite athlete for so long, some of the impacts of pregnancy and childbirth on her body were more extreme than she'd pictured.
"It shouldn’t have been a shock but the fact I couldn’t do a sit up ...,” Cherry said.
"It was nearly four months post and I could run and I could do lots of things, but I couldn’t do a simple sit up.
“But we saw a really huge increase in that four to five months, in my core and all my strength. It all came back really quickly. But prior to then, I could stand up and run but that was about it.
"I feel really great. It was such an unknown going into it, everyone’s experiences are so different and coming out the back of it now, it’s really positive.
"My body, it hurts at the moment being back in full training, but everyone in the team is hurting as well. It’s a tough block.
"But I am really positive and Tokyo is definitely still on the cards at the moment.”
The Aussie coaches and Cherry always pencilled in the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton, on the Australia Day weekend, or the Sydney Sevens a week later, as the possible return date.
Cherry hasn’t played since the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco, having had ankle surgery after the tournament and then falling pregnant while out injured.
With only three tournaments between Sydney and Tokyo - and no domestic sevens series being played in that period - there is a desire for all concerned to get Cherry’s graduated return under way.
"We have always had in the back of mind either Hamilton or Sydney would be a realistic return, pretty much on the seven-month post-baby mark, and being back in full training now, it is just getting the workload I need to go into a full tournament” Cherry said.
While many look at Serena Williams as the uber sporting super mum, Cherry is more inspired by CrossFit athlete Kara Saunders.
"She is only just ahead of me, she has a little girl Scotti who is about a month in front of me," Cherry said.
We did it. First time postpartum on the comp floor for a pretty tricky workout for this mumma. Had a few equipment malfunctions out there that cost me a lot, so I’ll be hitting this workout again in an attempt to qualify. Say all the prayers for me 😊 Not going to lie, It was nothing short of terrifying but for this moment....worth every second. #scottigirl #5monthspostpartum 📸 @qldfit
"It has been interesting seeing her progress and she has just qualified for the CrossFit Games, and I have been following her progress. Her body is an absolute machine. So it has been awesome to see her out there as well, on Instagram, promoting (sports motherhood)."
While she will take pride others may use her return to action as a case study in the future, Cherry is a country Queensland girl and not prone to gilding the lily. Athletes can be mums, too.
"It is a great example but it is very normal and should be very normal," she said.
"People have done it before me and people will do it after me."
Sevens is known as one of the toughest sports in the world to play, requiring superhuman fitness and endurance.
After the demands of childbirth, Cherry now knows deep down she'll be able to handle the pain coming her way. Or outside the icebaths room, anyway.
"I definitely think it changes your mindset, that any pain you go through, the next day you will be okay. I guess I have that attitude now. You can go through any pain, in your body,” Cherry said.
"The period of labour, that gives you strength, knowing that is one of the most intense pains a body can feel, and knowing I did that for a few hours, that gives you strength ... definitely that mental strength.
"You do feel like Superwoman after (giving birth). One my friends texted me and said" 'you absolute Superwoman' and I thought: ‘Yes, thank you, I do feel like Superwoman’."