Kathy Pagapular Ruszala, Robyn Spaeth, and Heather Ann Brook are the regular faces you see in fun and competitive runs, swimming, and biking on Saipan. We call them “weekend warriors” as they do much of their sports activities on the weekends as they take care of their families and career during weekdays.
Last year they moved their athleticism up a notch and signed up to be a part of the women’s triathlon team that will represent the CNMI in the upcoming 2022 Pacific Mini Games in June. The three mom-athletes are joined by Tania Tan and Kaithlyn Chavez in the line-up.
As these ladies build up and support each other, we salute them for making it look so easy to juggle being a mother and an athlete. We know it takes a lot of strength and courage to show up at the starting line and get their game face on at the crack of the starting gun, even as they balance that with the demands of motherhood.
Ruszala is a mother of two and a third-grade teacher at Saipan International School. While Ruszala trains extensively in preparation for the Mini Games every day, she never fails to spend time with her children like taking them to their sports, helping with homework, and maintaining a household. She also holds two master’s degrees—one for Education and another for Speech Language Pathology. But the best master’s degree that she will ever hold is on motherhood, according to her 9-year-old daughter, Leilani.
“She is doing the triathlon and how awesome is that? I think it is amazing because I don’t think she has done it before. That’s really hard to do and to get into the Mini Games you have to be the best. It is also really cool because she gets to meet people from other places. She went to Rota recently to practice the course. I am proud of her and I support her by telling her, ‘Mom, you’ve got this!’ Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, I love you and I’m really proud you are my mom!”
Spaeth has been an athlete all her life and this trip to the Mini Games is a box ticked off her bucket list. She is a mother of two: Lovel, 8, and Declan, 5, and a high school teacher at Marianas High School. Lovel said that, while her mother trains extensively, she doesn’t run out of time for her and her brother. “I think it’s cool that she gets to race and play with other people. She inspires me to do sports and to be as strong as her,” she said.
“I am lucky to have her as my mom because she also helps me with other things like when we have a science fair at school. For Mother’s Day, I might make her a card. I love her very much and happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I will support mom by cheering ‘Go, Mom! you can do this!’”
Declan said that he will make a card for mom too. “Happy Mother’s day, Mom, and I’m going to make a card too, like a Valentine’s Day card. I think she is doing a good job, I am proud of her and I will also say “Go, Mom!” When she comes home from training, I go and hug her because I love her. I also like to sleep and live with her. I want to be strong like mom so I can lift up a tree.”
Heather Ann Brook is a budding mom to 15-month-old Addie; this is her second year to celebrate Mother’s Day. She did soccer and ballet as a child, then switched to lacrosse in high school all the way to college. She has joined several marathons, one of which was the Boston Marathon in 2014. “I got into triathlons since moving to Saipan five-and-a-half years ago and learned how to open water swim and road bike here. Our training has been busy. I try to get six workouts in a week which is hard to do when you are also working and parenting,” she said.
“The best part was having our coach here from Australia, because that was a really incredible learning opportunity to be coached instead of self-taught. We learned so many triathlon-specific skills that were new to all of us and it made the training feel a lot more purposeful, and got me more excited for the final weeks leading to the Mini Games,” she added.
As a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s Children’s Clinic, where she has a 30-hour work week, Brook is grateful to have more time with Addie. “I also have the help of a wonderful nanny for my daughter. Sometimes she takes care of my daughter for me so that I can go do my training. Other times I take Addie along with me. She has a special seat that attaches to my bike and we also have a jogging stroller I use for the running sessions. Luckily, she really likes to come along so she’s pretty happy in her bike seat or stroller,” she said.
“Some of my main challenges were recovering after having a baby. It took me a lot longer to recover than I had expected. I had a bad pelvic floor injury, and had to do many months of physical therapy to get back to running comfortably again. The other big challenge is balancing being a single parent and trying to be present for my daughter with the demands of training. I sometimes can’t fit in all the workouts I’m supposed to, because I still have to put her first, and don’t want to miss too much time of these early years that go way to fast,” she added.
Brook said that Addie inspires her to be a better mom, nurse, and athlete. “I think that’s important for children to see their parents doing things they love, working hard toward a goal, and living a healthy, fit lifestyle. She’s probably too young to appreciate all that now, but she will see it more when she’s older. For now, doing triathlon makes me a happier person, and if I’m a happier person, I think I’m a better mom, which she benefits from.”
“As I watch Addie grow and learn, she reminds me to stop and just enjoy the simple moments in life. Sometimes I can get so caught up in going from one activity to the next, she really helps remind me to just slow down and just enjoy being present with her. She helps keep me grounded to what’s really important. She makes me want to be the best mom I can be,” she added.