Feb 21, 2020

For Stefanie Slekis, training for the Olympic Trials didn’t go according to plan

By Shaelyn Carroll

Grady Sports Media 

To say that Stefanie Slekis’s journey to the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta has been full of surprises would be an understatement.

Slekis, 31, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 29, 2019, with a time of 2:42:24 at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, beating her previous personal best by more than seven minutes. 

In July, in the best shape of her life, she discovered that she was pregnant. Her due date? The same week as the Olympic Trials.

Pregnancy wasn’t really on Slekis’s radar - she needed fertility treatment for her first child, Polly, so she didn’t think it was a possibility. However, she and her husband Ryan Barrow were very excited about the surprise because they wanted a second child.

But the surprises didn’t stop there. At 7 a.m. on January 30, 2020, Slekis gave birth to Sandy Jane Barrow three weeks early. Slekis was having contractions and went to see the doctor. She tested positive for preeclampsia, a blood pressure abnormality.  She was told that she wasn’t leaving until she had the baby. Labor was then induced.

Though she originally hadn’t planned on running for six weeks after having the baby, this turn of events may allow Slekis to run part of the Trials.

Slekis had tried to qualify for the Trials back in 2016, but she fell a bit short. After giving birth to her daughter Polly in 2017, Slekis slowly increased her distances and improved her times over the next few years. Motherhood hasn’t held her back; if anything, it has helped her improve. 

Slekis says a key to her recent success at Grandma’s Marathon was that her “mom strength kicked in”. She says that motherhood has taught her not to make excuses for herself - and she certainly hasn’t. On January 19, 2020, just 11 days before giving birth, Slekis finished in the women’s top five in the Louisiana Marathon with a time of 3:07:15. 

“I think the most impressive thing about her is that she wasn't discouraged by the fact that she wasn't able to qualify for 2016,” said Ester Atkins, a friend and fellow qualifier. “She went ahead and had a kid and still managed to qualify for 2020.”

Atkins also says that, if Slekis is cleared to run, it would be an honor to line up alongside her.

Motherhood is not the only challenge that Slekis balances with her own training and competition. She is also the head men's and women's track and field and cross country coach at Nicholls State (La.) University.

While Slekis is grateful for the many wonderful and supportive men she has been coached by, she also recognizes the value of the rare female coach. She says that all of her athletes know her as “the mom,” which she views as a positive opportunity to teach them about work-life balance.

“I think for me to have a chance to not only be a role model for the females on my team, but also for the males that I get to coach, I think they need to see strong women being able to do things too,” Slekis said.

Hannah Naquin, a distance runner that Slekis coached at Nicholls, says, “having someone like Stefanie as a coach really makes you think you can do anything. You see everyday what she does and all of the things she juggles with her team and her own training and her family and she always seems to be killing it.”

Leading up to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, Atlanta Track Club partnered with the Grady Sports Media program at the University of Georgia to profile some of the competitors in the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. The authors of these stories are undergraduate students enrolled in the program and have been lightly edited by the Club. See all of the stories at https://www.atlanta2020trials.com/news/uga-trials-project.