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PREGNANT PAUSE ELIMINATES BIRK FROM COMPETITION

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Until recently, Nicole Birk thought she would be among the Utahns competing in this week's U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in New Orleans. She had, after all, met the qualifying standard in the 3,000-meter run. But on Monday she learned that she won't be attending the meet. An injury? No. Illness? Not yet. Weight gain? Well, now that you mention it . . .

Birk recently discovered that she is pregnant with her first child. Almost three months pregnant. She still planned to compete in the Trials until she made her first visit to the doctor Monday and he convinced her otherwise.Says Birk, "I thought he'd say do it, but he didn't even hesitate. He said no way. It would be too much stress. And then there's the heat in Louisiana. I guess I'm through for the year, but I'll be back."

Birk began to notice a decline in her performances at the Mt. SAC Relays in April and later during a road race in Washington D.C. Her times were slower, her breathing was difficult, she had dizzy spells, and rivals who normally didn't beat her were beating her. During one race her lips turned bluish.

"Everything was going great, and then all of a sudden I was having a hard time breathing," she says. "I thought it must be allergies or asthma."

Eventually, she added up the symptoms and last week did a home pregnancy test, which was positive. The doctor confirmed the test results on Monday.

"It wasn't exactly planned, but we're happy," says Birk's husband, Troy.

This is only the latest in a series of setbacks for Birk's running career, although it is certainly under happier circumstances. After competing for American Fork High, where she was the only female distance runner, she walked on at BYU. She missed one and a half years of competition because of a knee injury that was so severe that doctors told her she might never run again. She did run again, but hip and achilles injuries cost her most of another outdoor season.

In all, she managed to complete just two full seasons in five years of collegiate competition, and even those didn't always go smoothly. During her junior year she was running in 16th place with 100 yards left in the NCAA Cross Country Championships when she tripped and fell. Exhausted, she fell twice more as she tried to get up and wound up in 50th place.

"I just didn't have much confidence in myself," recalls Birk of her collegiate days.

The following year Birk finished 22nd in the NCAA Cross country meet and seventh in the 3,000 at the NCAA track championships to earn All-America honors. A couple of weeks later she finished seventh again in the TAC national track championships and qualified for the Trials with a time of 9:09.07. She dedicated the past year to training for the Olympic Trials, when she wasn't teaching health and physical education at Alta High.

"I have mixed feelings, but I'm happy to be pregnant," Birk says. "I'll come back after the baby is born. I have a much better chance in '96. I think I'll come back and be stronger. I have a lot of potential. I've got a good career ahead of me."