Amanda Beard knows a thing or two about pushing through and finishing strong. But neither her 15 years as a national competitive swimmer nor her seven Olympic medals prepared the athlete, 28, for the Sept. 15 arrival of little Blaise Ray Brown. "My races last 2½ minutes at most," says the first-time mom. "I was in labor for 17 hours!" But just like in the pool, the hard work paid off: Beard and her husband, photographer Sacha Brown, 35, were instantly smitten with their 7-lb. 12-oz. bundle of joy. "Everyone says, 'It's such a miracle,'" says Beard. "But you don't truly understand until you go through the process. It's surreal."
Getting there was a struggle at times, as Beard suffered from high blood pressure and fought "24/7 sugar cravings" (forget pickles and ice cream; the lifelong athlete got her fix from "freezing Gatorade and drinking it all day, like a slushie").
But the biggest hurdle for the 5'8" stunner, who graced the cover of Playboy
in 2007, was "accepting that you're getting bigger and that it's okay. You think for six months that you're huge. But by the time nine months rolls around, you're a whale."
Beard, who gained 50 lbs. during her pregnancy, has already lost more than 30 and recently started training in the pool four times a week. "Swimming was always my No. 1 focus, but now it's Blaise," she says. "He's at the top of the pyramid." Still, her goal—besides kicking butt when Blaise's Mommy and Me classes start in January—is to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. "Training feels easy," she marvels. "Compared to when I was pregnant and huge, workouts are fun."
While Beard and Brown—who wed May 1 in the South Pacific—get the hang of the whole parenthood thing at home in Tucson (where they share a four-bedroom home with four German Shepherd mixes), their favorite activity is decidedly low key: "We stare at him a lot," says Beard. "He just discovered he has hands; he thinks they're the coolest things in the world."
Could discovering his backstroke be next? Blaise hasn't ventured into the pool yet, but his mom is already encouraged by one of his favorite pastimes: "We put him in the bathtub," she says. "He loves it."