The Elite Mommas of OCR: Kaci Monroe
Doctor, Business Owner, Spartan, Momma

Kaci Monroe is a quadruple threat who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), owner of a physical therapy clinic, Spartan pro team member, and mother of two. Kaci has been competing on the elite side of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) since 2013. During this time, she has had two beautiful children and ventured in and out of the obstacle course racing world. Her journey back to elite competition will give you chills and may cause a couple of tears to be shed.

Kaci started her athletic career early in gymnastics, and she later discovered competitive
running when her small high school track team in Montana needed more runners. While Kaci had been running her entire life, she “didn’t really like it,” but after a few impressive performances at some big-time races, her passion for the sport started to grow. At a certain point, Kaci was left with a decision to either pursue running (track & field/cross country) or gymnastics. She chose running. This decision led to her breaking school records and earning a track and field/cross country scholarship to the University of Montana. It was here that her passion for fitness really blossomed. She majored in exercise science, maintained a 3.75 GPA, and decided to pursue a career in physical therapy. Kaci discovered OCR in 2013 when she ran Spartan Montana in the Open Category. Though she originally ran the race for fun, her results were good enough to have placed her the #1 female in the elite category, and she realized she was onto something. She ran her next race as an elite, and she has been racing in the elite/pro category of OCR ever since.

During her OCR career, Kaci has been blessed with two healthy children. Her daughter Irelynn was born in 2016, and her son Jamison was born in 2020. Motherhood in her words, has made her “not only tougher in races but smarter in how she trains.” However, Kaci had struggles with postpartum depression (PPD) and she holds that OCR training and a strong support system got her through the dark times in her life.

Throughout our conversation, Kaci highlighted three key lessons that she learned during her pregnancies and postpartum recovery:
1) Ask for Help 2) Be Active and 3) Embrace the Change.

Ask for Help
As evidenced by her background, Kaci is a high-achieving individual who has high expectations for her performance in every area of life. She has been successful in many areas, but the pressure she places on herself has caused her to struggle with varying levels of anxiety and depression. This struggle played a role in her first pregnancy, and caused her to have a mounting internal battle that came to a head when she was at a check-up visit with her first child’s pediatrician. At the end of the appointment, the doctor told Kaci that her child was doing well, but then he asked her “How are YOU doing?” Before she knew it, Kaci was crying uncontrollably. The pediatrician talked with her and said “I think you need to go back to your OB.” Reluctant, Kaci responded, “No, I’m fine. I’m just really tired.” The pediatrician, attuned to the stressors of being a new parent, personally walked Kaci over to the OB/GYN’s office and said “just talk to them.” This support enabled Kaci to get the help she needed but did not know how to ask for, and her OB physician informed her that she was suffering from postpartum depression.

While Kaci’s struggles were very personal, she is certainly not alone. According to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, approximately 1 in every 5 women in the United States experience symptoms of depression in the postpartum period and up to 80% of women struggle with postpartum blues (1). However, there are even more women with symptoms who are not identified and do not receive help or treatment. This information is certainly not meant to scare anyone reading this. Rather, this information simply helps to inform people that while there are risk factors that increase the risk of developing PPD and postpartum blues, it can still happen to anyone. If you are struggling with similar feelings after having a child, do not be afraid to reach out to a friend, family, or your health care team to get the help you need and deserve.

Kaci says that one of the biggest mistakes she made with her first pregnancy was thinking she could do it all by herself. Going into her second pregnancy she was much more aware that while she could do it alone, she did not have to. She recognized the importance of communicating her feelings and asking for help. In her words “I talk about things a lot and very openly, because I think that helps you heal.” When she started opening up more with her family, husband and friends, she noticed that it helped them understand what she was struggling with and how they could help her. Consequently, she experienced a huge positive change in her emotional state and pregnancy/postpartum recovery. She also noticed that her relationships had grown stronger. Her advice is “If you are struggling with this, work to be honest with the people around you because you cannot have a good support system if they do not know what is going on.” However, Kaci holds that while this support and openness were critical to her recovery, regular exercise was just as essential to providing her with a safe place to heal during her postpartum journeys.

Be Active
While it is not the case for every woman, Kaci was able to run throughout both of her pregnancies, and she states that “running felt good.” One of Kaci’s insights to current or prospective moms is to be active. She says “Even if you feel crappy, just go out and do something physical. You will feel so much better.” If you cannot run, go for a walk, use the elliptical, or ride the bike. Movement was a key component for a happy and healthy pregnancy and helped keep her hormones and mood at bay. Her experience is also backed by guidance published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

ACOG recommends physical activity in the pregnant and postpartum period, stating: “Physical activity and exercise in pregnancy are associated with minimal risks and have been shown to benefit most women” (2). Additionally, ACSM backs physical activity for pregnant women encouraging physical activity for a minimum of 3 days per week using different types of activities. They say programming should be “individualized for each woman based on situation, experience, and current health status” (3). Consequently, while Kaci ran roughly 3-4 miles per day along with strength-based training, a similar program may include more or less activity depending on the health and experience of the pregnant momma.

After the birth of her first daughter and discussions with her provider, Kaci was back to using the elliptical one week postpartum and was lightly running by the second week. Her strong fitness background, uncomplicated pregnancy, and physical therapy background were factors that played into this decision. According to ACOG, “Exercise routines may be resumed gradually after pregnancy as soon as medically safe.” This depends on the mode of delivery (vaginal deliveries have a quicker recovery period than cesarean sections) and the presence or absence of medical or surgical complications. ACOG states that “some women are capable of resuming physical activities within days of delivery,” (2) but some women may require weeks to months depending on the situation. Kaci was blessed with an uncomplicated delivery, and she was able to safely return to training without issues in the early postpartum period.

Kaci’s second pregnancy was a different story. Kaci was fortunate to have a normal pregnancy and an uncomplicated delivery. Like her first pregnancy, she was able to return to training early. When she returned to training, she noticed some consistent bleeding, and she could tell it seemed much harder to do anything physical, especially run. Upon returning from her six-week follow-up with her OB, Kaci started bleeding excessively and had to go to the Emergency Department. After an evaluation, she was diagnosed with a retained placenta, and she needed an urgent D&C surgery to remove the remaining vascularized tissue. While she was optimistic that this procedure had taken care of the issue, shortly after she experienced similar symptoms and required a second D&C procedure. Nonetheless, she was finally able to get back to a consistent training schedule following her second surgery, and she set her sights on competing at Spartan Jacksonville in February 2021. Kaci was able to place in the top 10 at this race, and she credits listening to her body and seeking help early as a key component to her success. She stresses that while it is important to be active both in pregnancy and the postpartum period, every momma should pay close attention to what their body is communicating with them before increasing their level of activity. Furthermore, it is important to understand that no matter how hard a momma tries, both her body (and possibly her mind) will experience a change after giving birth.

Embrace the Change
Due to the uncertainty that goes hand in hand with a first pregnancy, Kaci questioned her goals, motivation, and aspirations post-delivery. She wondered “Do I want to continue being an athlete? Do I want to continue running my own business? What will I actually be able to do? Will I ever want to compete again?” The answer became clear to her shortly after her first child was born. Her drive to continue to compete at the highest level was simple: TO PROVE THAT SHE COULD. She believed that a person cannot only come back after having a baby, but she can “come back STRONGER.” She became less focused on the results of the races and more focused on proving to herself that she could be a great athlete AND a great momma. The motivation of living her best life for herself and a beautiful new little human made Kaci tougher and smarter both in training and in competition. She was surprised at how quickly she adapted to balancing both worlds after she changed her mindset, and she holds that “the adaptability of moms is amazing.” In her first pregnancy Kaci was rightfully nervous for all the changes she was about to experience, but once she realized it was possible to get back into peak fitness following the birth of a child, her focus with her second pregnancy was to simply “embrace the changes.” The mental fortitude and strength that came with being a mom helped make Kaci a better athlete. She became less focused on worrying about the small things and embracing the beauty of the moment. This experience helped her develop a new passion for OCR and a desire to help other mommas find their way back to a happy and healthy life.

What We Can Learn From This
Kaci is a lifelong high achiever who had impressive professional aspirations and also wanted to have children. In 2016, her dream became a reality, but it also came with many unexpected changes and difficulties. Kaci says that her life is now “a constant balancing act,” but she loves the new challenges, new perspectives, and never having a dull moment. She believes that every woman who hopes to have children will also be able to pursue their passions, but it is important for new mommas to understand that priorities and timelines may have to change.

To current or aspiring mommas, do not forget: 1) Ask for Help 2) Be Active and 3) Embrace the Change.

This is part two in our “Elite Mommas of OCR” series. You can read part one on Rose Wetzel here, and be sure to follow The OCR Report on Instagram for the latest OCR news.

Citations
1) Ruyak, Sharon L., Flores-Montoya, Angelina and Bouraw, Blake. “Antepartum Services and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in At-Risk Women.” Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynecology, 2017.
2) Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2020.
3) Bauer, Patricia. “Pregnancy Physical Activity.” American College of Sports Medicine, 2020.
4) Ersek, Jennifer L. “Physical Activity Prior to and During Pregnancy and Risk of Postpartum Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2009.
5) Interview with Kaci Monroe, 19 May 2021

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