Ruthy Hebard leans on her Sky family throughout emotional journey into motherhood
A stroller sits outside the basketball court at Sachs Recreation Facility, holding a newborn baby boy. There are constant whistles, bouncing basketballs and yelling, but the baby sleeps peacefully.
New mom and Chicago Sky forward Ruthy Hebard is standing close by while watching practice and getting in some light cardio as she continues her progression towards a return to game action.
“He’s already getting used to hearing a basketball,” Hebard said laughing. “Oh, yeah, he sleeps through practice now. He’s gonna be fine. I’m gonna be in the gym all the time.”
“Family is really important to us so it’s nice having him around when we’re in the gym and practicing,” head coach James Wade said. “Sometimes I can hear him so I try not to blow the whistle too loud.”
Hebard gave birth to Xzavier Reid on April 11, 2023 in Chicago but didn’t know about her own pregnancy until she was around 5-6 months along. After she found out, she came to Chicago and started training, in essence, for her pregnancy.
“It reminds me of how you would train for an ACL surgery,” Sky strength and conditioning coach and director of basketball operations Ann Crosby said. “You would try to get the muscle as strong as possible so when they return, the muscles come back stronger.”
“Four or five times a week, I was lifting with Ann, shooting with a trainer and doing yoga, too.” Hebard said. “So just working out, trying to be strong in the ab area so I could have a safe delivery and fast delivery and then be able to bounce back faster.”
The training process involved consistent communication with Crosby, Hebard’s obstetrician, the Sky’s team doctors and Hebard herself.
“The biggest thing is making sure she stays in shape while she’s pregnant,” Crosby explained. “If you’re not doing exercises and conditioning the right way, it can hurt the baby and can also hurt the mom.
“So it’s very important that you keep all those parameters in check, and anybody who’s working with her has to also be on the same page, which is extremely important. If labor and delivery go smooth, then just starting a very slow progression as she gets cleared along each day.”
The progression involves swimming and pool work, exercise bike, yoga, pelvic floor training and much more in a way that won’t ‘wreak havoc’ on the pelvic floor or separate the muscles in any way.
All the pre-labor training gives players the opportunity to come back stronger, especially in a situation where Hebard gave birth just three weeks before training camp started. All of this is very common amongst women’s sports in general.
“In any of my jobs when I’ve had women who have gotten pregnant, and it’s because I trained some that I knew we had a small window to get pregnant,” Crosby said. “They were going to go for it, and they were very planned.
“When I was with soccer, we worked out all the way up to the [delivery] so they knew what their joints and ligaments had to carry as we prepared for a World Cup, but it’s individual. It really is. I would love to say there’s like a cookie cutter plan and there just isn’t.”
While Hebard sits on the sideline cheering on her teammates through each game, she’s itching to get back on the hardwood and knows the 4-5 month comeback process will all be worth it as she aims for a return in June.
“I mean, it’s a lot, you know, like the pelvic floor therapy and yoga and running and lifting, but it’s so much easier when I look on the court and see my teammates,” Hebard said smiling. “I really want to be out there. I really want to be playing, and I don’t want to just be out there. I want to be a factor, me playing it and give them 100%.”
“She has such a great work ethic. I’m so proud of her,” Crosby said with eyes starting to tear up. “It’s an emotional journey to travel with a new mom who’s also trying to experience the game. Having had two kids in this league, and having to travel, we got her on it.”
Until she’s back in the Sky blue uniform, Hebard will continue to see baby Xzavier get passed around at practice by her teammates and coaches while some Sky fans also welcomed the newest member of the family with open arms.
“Some fans give him gifts [at the home opener]. It was just awesome to see that they’re all cheering for me and we just have some amazing fans in our corner,” Hebard said.
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To hear more of Hebard’s story, watch the interview above.