Silvia Zennaro, Two-Time Olympian and New Mother

Italian two-time Olympic ILCA 6 sailor Silvia Zennaro is proof that you can have the best of both worlds. In the summer of 2021, Zennaro competed in the Tokyo Olympics and placed 7th in the 44-boat fleet. In March 2022, she gave birth to a baby girl named Olimpia, by May she was back on the water at competitions, and by October, she was racing at the ILCA 6 World Championships in Texas. Read on to hear more about her experience juggling an Olympic sailing career with a pregnancy and newborn baby.

FUJISAWA, JAPAN – JULY 26: Silvia Zennaro of Team Italy
competes in the Women’s Laser Radial class on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Enoshima Yacht Harbour on July 26, 2021 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Did you compete in any regattas while pregnant? I found out I was pregnant just after the [Tokyo] Olympics. So I sailed a great regatta during the Olympics, then I came back and the morning after I took the test. This is why I called her Olimpia.

How did you adjust your training routine throughout the pregnancy – on and off the water? I stopped sailing. I was supposed to stop for a bit after the Olympics anyway, so I definitely stopped sailing, but I continued to train in the gym till the end. It was easy because it was the only thing that I had to do, and I felt well for the entire period so I didn’t have problems, and after the gym I felt even better.

Do you have any training tips for other ILCA 6 sailors that may go through pregnancy while pursuing an Olympic sailing career? For sure don’t take any test before the Olympics… For me everything was great, but it could be pretty hard to sail feeling bad.

I never had nausea, I was just a bit tired in the end but I think that training maintained my body enough to be strong and active so I didn’t feel too much fatigue… You have to adapt your training to the situation and, of course, with the big belly.

This time we have only three years between the Olympics, so if you have four, you have all the time to do everything and enjoy the process.

You delivered your baby girl in March 2022 and were already competing in events by May. How quickly did you return to training after delivery? I came back to train in 28 days. I had an emergency C-section so the recovery was very hard and painful, but it was hard also for me to stay completely stopped for 28 days. After that, I was becoming crazy so I started to do easy rides, sailing in light winds, and I tried to improve every day with a big focus on what I was feeling in that moment.

Do you have any recovery/postpartum tips for returning to physical training and sailing? I had my trainer give me training with my feedback, and with my mental coach and my coach, we tried to do something more every day if my body was feeling good.

How did you juggle caring for a newborn and returning to your sailing career, in terms of time spent and mental space? It’s very hard, you need a lot of help from everyone because you never rest. It’s also hard to organize your life and the baby’s life, but with a good plan you can do it (not easy but not impossible). It’s an amazing new challenge.

Your abdominal muscles go through so many changes in pregnancy, and the core is obviously a key component of sailing – how long did it take for your core to return to normal after pregnancy? Were there any exercises that were more helpful than others? I think that every case is different because I didn’t have a very big belly, but I did have the C-section, so they cut everything. I think that you need one year to come back normal, I recently had back pain because my pelvis is not coming back.

I did a lot of isometric ab exercises like the plank, and I worked a lot with breathing and then then the hiking bench.

Tell us about your first Worlds back. In Kemah, Texas, you had a great start to the event and ended up finishing in 25th. How did that event go for you? Texas was the first time for me without the baby. I missed her so much. The start was good, for me and Marit also (“Super Mama Power” people said), but I wasn’t back in shape so every day I was very tired, and in the end I was completely dead. The regatta was very long and stressful, and I missed one year of training (long days on the water, very long trainings, and very hard trainings…).

Now that you are about one year out from delivery, would you say you’ve returned to the fitness and sailing level you were at before you had the baby? Not yet, I think that I pushed too much in the beginning, and after that I was very tired (Worlds in Texas and Europeans). I tried to train consistently but I became sick immediately after I got a cold day, so winter trainings were a bit up and down. I would’ve liked to push more, but I couldn’t because I have less energy and less time to recover. But it’s different for everyone. I just need to be more patient, and we have some more time until big events.

How are you gearing up for the 2023 World Championship in August, the ultimate event of the year and Olympic qualifier, as you are also raising a one-year-old? Yes, the Worlds is the most important event of the year. I think we will all go together because she makes me happy and is also good therapy for a bad day! Now Olimpia is going to kindergarten from 8:30 to 15:30, so when I am home I use this time to train, and if I need more time, my husband or the grandmas take care of her.

We have some competitions before [the Worlds]: Europeans, Palma, Hyeres, and Test Event, and I’ll bring Olimpia to the first two. For training in Marseille and Den Hag I will go alone. It will be fun and hard, but I will be ready!

Any final tips for women juggling ILCA sailing and having a baby? Yes, after my OCS in the medal race at the Olympics I was very sad and disappointed, but when I found out about the baby I rose. I had new motivations, and when she was born it was the best day of my life. Every day she gives me the power, and when I am sad she makes me smile. It’s hard because she needs you all day but she gives you so much love. I am more focused because I know that I have a time limit, so I do everything in the best way I can. I don’t lose time and my objectives are the same. Even if I will not come back to the same level, I don’t want to change my life with others. I am 33 now and I can accept that life can go on.