Harriet Stevens: Bowler wins two national titles while eight months pregnant

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Harriet Stevens
Harriet Stevens has won two indoor and two outdoor titles this year

What did you do in the final few weeks before you had your first baby?

Perhaps it involved constructing some flat-pack furniture, picking out cute little romper suits, maybe a baby shower or watching a box set with your feet up.

It probably did not involve winning two national sports titles.

But that is just what bowler Harriet Stevens did this month as she won the English fours and the national under-25s singles title at Royal Leamington Spa while eight months pregnant.

"The amount of comments that I had that I shouldn't be doing this in my condition was ridiculous," she told BBC Sport after her title-winning exploits for the Torquay-based Kings Bowls club.

"A lot of the officials said 'I think you need to watch yourself' - I don't think any of them wanted to deliver a baby on the green, but a lot of the spectators were mainly in awe at the fact that I was able to play 13 games in three days.

"I definitely felt like I'd been hit by a bus after the three days, I was aching all over," said Stevens, now taking a rest with about two weeks to go before her baby is due.

'I've had a very lucky pregnancy'

Harriet Stevens (right) with her Kings Bowls Club teammates Emma Cooper, Lauren Hackett and Hayley James after winning the national fours title
Harriet Stevens (right) with her Kings Bowls Club teammates Emma Cooper, Lauren Hackett and Hayley James after winning the national fours title

The NHS advisesexternal-link that "as a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you're probably exercising too strenuously".

While sports like horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, cycling, or kickboxing are a no-no for an expectant mum, bowls is a safe choice.

"My midwife let me know that she'd had a lot of women who'd played sports right up until their due date or the day they gave birth, so that spurred me on quite a lot to keep going," said Stevens, who took part in a naked calendar photoshoot last year to help raise cancer treatment funds for a team-mate.

"I'm one of those people that doesn't want to sit at home and wait, if someone tells me to sit at home and put my feet up, that's probably the last thing I'll be doing.

"I think I've had a very lucky pregnancy in that I didn't have any morning sickness to contend with and not had any problems."

Harriet's partner is fellow bowls international Sam Tolchard, so the sport will very much be in the blood of the new baby when it is born in September.

"It's won quite a few national titles before it's been born, so we'd hope that there's a national champion to come. whether it's in bowls or not we'll see," added Stevens with a smile.

"Sam's joked that he wants this baby to be a money-maker - but unfortunately bowls isn't that sport."

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.