SANFORD, Fla. — Before hitting the pitch for the first time in four months, striker Sydney Leroux began her new pre-training routine in the locker room on Tuesday — breastfeeding her newborn, then suiting up in her kit and cleats.
Leroux returned to training with the Orlando Pride this week, less than six weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Roux. For her teammates, her return to the pitch brought a jolt of inspiration.
“I’m in awe of her 24/7 — of how incredible she is as a mom, as a person, as a player,” Pride captain Ashlyn Harris said of Leroux. “What a great symbol of absolute strength and beauty. Women are so strong and so incredible and should be supported way beyond what they are.”
Tuesday’s practice marked the first step on a long road for Leroux. She spent the morning running through a series of fitness activities with a trainer on the sidelines of the team’s practice, working up to full sprints.
Although Leroux spent the entire training on the sidelines, coach Marc Skinner and her teammates noted that she was moving well, already training at a pace higher than expected.
Leroux is no stranger to this process — she returned to the FC Kansas City starting lineup after the birth of her son, Cassius, three years ago. With clearer expectations for herself, she said the process has felt easier the second time around.
“I think I surprised myself,” Leroux said. “I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I think my base feels good. I’m excited to be back and now it’s just about getting fit and getting back in with the team.”
When Leroux decided to stop training in April in the third trimester of her pregnancy, the Pride never set expectations for her return. The club sent a firm message that she should rest and recuperate, only returning when she felt ready.
Precisely 40 days after her daughter’s birth, the striker was ready to report to training. Leroux said she is prepared to push her body as hard as she can in the coming weeks in order to return to game readiness.
Due to the timing of her pregnancy, Skinner has yet to work with a game-ready Leroux and he said that he is already excited by the prospect of integrating her back into the team.
“I love the fact that I’m surrounded by strong women,” Skinner said. “I absolutely adore it. Seeing Syd coming out and being that person, she’s a really good person. I can’t wait to see what she’s like as a player and I’m happy that she’s ready to start that process now.”
Although Leroux hasn’t set a firm timeline for herself, Skinner hopes that in five to six weeks, she will be back to training at full speed alongside her teammates. Regardless of her level of involvement with the Pride in training, Leroux’s teammates said the team feels energized whenever she’s near the pitch.
Last week, Leroux attended training with Cassius, breaking the team huddle down at the end of the practice. Even that small involvement, her teammates said, makes a major impact.
“Whether she’s in the whole training or not, just having her presence is really inspiring and that extra motivation for us,” defender Shelina Zadorsky said. “She’s part of our family, so it’s great to see.”
Although the challenge of returning to full-speed from a pregnancy is steep, Leroux said that she was motivated by her family, including her husband, Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer. She takes pride in her role as a mother, but she feels an equal draw toward contributing to her team on the pitch.
For Leroux, Tuesday marked a return to a balance of the two things she cares about the most.
“I think I’m just driven by that excitement of showing that I’m not just a mom, I want to be a soccer player as well,” Leroux said. “Getting back at it makes me feel like me.”