GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Aliphine Tuliamuk can’t believe there was a time when she was happy before she was a mom.

That’s despite her many first-place finishes in professional road races across the country, including the Tokyo Summer Olympic trials for the marathon and the Amway Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids. She won that race three times in a row, from 2016 to 2018, and will return to the streets of West Michigan Saturday to attempt to make it a fourth win this year.

Despite that first place finish at the Olympic trials, Tuliamuk was unable to finish the race in Tokyo due to an injury. To say she had a lot happen in between the trials and the games, which were delayed due to COVID-19, would be an understatement.

Tuliamuk gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Zoe, in January 2021, the year following the trials and seven months before she would attempt to compete in the marathon for the Olympics.

“There’s so many doubts when you take an extended break from your job — and especially as a mom — and then you come back to training and your body feels different,” Tuliamuk said.

She was worried about whether her body was going to work like it did before but she got into excellent shape and felt ready for the games when the injury happened.

“I was doing all these things to get ready … and I did get really fit and to not be able to show that fitness was definitely difficult,” Tuliamuk said.

One of the women she will face in the Riverbank Run 25K race is Kiera D’Amato, the American record-holder for the marathon and 10K distances. Tuliamuk said that has changed how she is training.

“For me, I need to come in with my A-game and I hope that’s enough. … It definitely makes me nervous and excited, it makes me think like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I can run (a 5:18 mile) for that long, but at the same time it will be exciting hopefully to have a fast race,'” she said.

Another woman who will compete to cross that finish line first is Lindsay Flanagan. She trains in Colorado and joined the race for the first time in 2021, when it was held in October.

She’s looking forward to returning for her second Riverbank Run.

“Every time I would get to the top of a hill (last year), the community was out there cheering you on. I think that makes a pretty big difference. It’s why I actually chose to come back to this race because I love how supportive the community is,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan knows Tuliamuk, who is based in Arizona, from the racing circuit, and is looking forward to seeing her again. 

“She is so fun, so supportive. I feel like anytime anyone races, she’s the first one to reach out and be like, ‘Oh my gosh you did so great,'” Flanagan said.

Flanagan also said she’s impressed by the way Tuliamuk returned to racing after having her daughter.

“(She) is already back and crushing it,” Flanagan said. “I think that’s really inspiring … to see her bounce back so quickly and she’s running fantastic again, so it will be really nice to see her.”

She added that it gives her hope to see women start a family and continue running into their late 30s.

As far as age is concerned, Tuliamuk is enjoying the success she has found in running more now than when she was younger. She struggled after college to run well and win races and make a living off of the sport.

“I came out of college a really good athlete, but when you join the professional world, you become like anyone else, just one of many,” Tuliamuk said. “I struggled a lot to pay my bills, I wasn’t running well, so it was very challenging and in fact, a few times, I thought about quitting. I’m glad I didn’t!”

She had another moment when she thought she might not continue racing, the moment she decided to start a family.

“It’s hard being a mom, it’s hard coming back to running and all of that. But it’s also like, I chose to be a mom, and I knew that there was a chance I might never be able to come back and race at the level I was,” Tuliamuk said.

Tuliamuk had to take an extended time off to heal from her injury but she is back to a full training schedule now and ready for the Riverbank Run.

“I’m super excited about the future, I just have to remind myself to be patient,” she said.