Being a professional athlete is demanding but being a professional athlete and a mom? That’s a whole other level of determination. Being pregnant dramatically transforms a woman’s body so to come right back to the sport she left is an amazing feat on so many levels.
Women have been competing in the Olympics since 1900, but it wasn’t until 1948 that mom athletes were truly embraced. That summer, 30-year-old Fanny Blankers-Koen, a Dutch track-and-fielder and mother of two, won four gold medals at the London Olympics. She earned the nickname the Flying Housewife and shattered the perception that moms couldn’t compete in elite sporting events.
Soccer moms have long led the charge for elite female athletes returning to competitive sports while juggling motherhood. The U.S. Women’s National Team has consistently featured mothers on its roster since 1994, when Joy Fawcett became the first “Soccer Mom” to give birth and continue playing at the highest levels of international soccer. Carla Overbeck and Danielle Fotopoulos also had kids while on the U.S. team, and Christie Rampone (mother of Riley and Reece) continues on the defensive line. Though retired from competitive play, Mia Hamm joined the Soccer Moms Club when she and husband Nomar Garciaparra welcomed twin daughters in 2007. Eight years ago, Brandi Chastain became mom to son Connor and seven years ago Julie Foudy, former captain of the US Women’s soccer team, had a baby girl named Isabel. Long-time player Kristine Lilly returned to play after daughter Sidney was born and only retired from professional soccer at the beginning of 2011 before giving birth to another daughter.
Obviously, competitive women aren’t waiting until their athletic careers are over to start families. And while the physical and emotional challenges of motherhood can be difficult, most athlete moms wouldn’t have it any other way. WNBA player Lisa Leslie sat out a season with the Los Angeles Sparks to give birth to a daughter but she returned to the pro team for a year and had a great season before giving birth to baby #2 and retiring. Leslie’s former teammate, MVP and Rookie of the Year Candace Parker is also a mom enjoying daughter Laila, a constant sideline companion, while playing in both the Euroleague and the WNBA. Other WNBA moms share their favorite Mother’s Day memories on WNBA.com. But Parker and Leslie are far from the first WNBA stars to have their basketball careers impacted by pregnancy. In previous seasons, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and others have missed time, and occasionally entire seasons, to focus on their families.
Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh-Jennings incredibly won a gold medal at the London Olympics while pregnant and she, along with her husband, pro-volleyball star Casey Jennings, welcomed baby girl Scout Margery into the world on April 6, 2013. Scout joins older brothers Joey and Sundance and Kerri has publicly stated that she intends to compete at the Rio Games in 2016.
Pitcher Jennie Finch and husband Casey Daigle have two sons, Ace and Diesel, and a baby girl, Paisley Faye, joined the family in early 2013. Finch competed with the Women’s National Softball Team, ran the New York Marathon shortly after Diesel was born and until recently played for the Chicago Bandits. USSF Pride player Jessica Mendoza is also a mom. Her son Caleb was born in 2009 and the gold medal Olympian gave birth to another son, Cayden. Stacey Nuveman also played for United States National Team and now balances coaching softball with motherhood.
When the U.S. women’s hockey team beat Finland to win the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, forward Jenny Potter skated around the rink in celebration with her then 5-year-old daughter Madison in her arms. Potter’s daughter was a fixture at the rink at an early age. A week after Madison was born in January 2001, Jenny was skating again. Three months later, she was back playing for the U.S. women’s hockey team in the world championships. What’s even more impressive is that Jenny did it all again. Just 83 days after delivering son Cullen, Potter helped the 2007 U.S. Women’s National Team to a 9-0 victory over Kazakhstan in the opening game of the 2007 IIIHF Women’s World Championship. As the only mom on the U.S. hockey team, she pulled off back-to-back hat tricks in the first two games of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Tennis player Lindsay Davenport had an amazing comeback after giving birth to her son Jagger. Just three months after the birth of her first child, Davenport became an instant and almost shocking success winning a number of high profile tournaments. She recently gave birth to her second child. Kim Clisjters came out of retirement after her daughter Jada was born and famously won the U.S. Open as an unseeded player. Apparently, she adjusted Jada’s daytime nap so she would be able to stay up at night to stay up and witness her mom’s straight set victory.
On the long list of athlete moms is Gold medal-winning swimmer Dara Torres, who made an amazing comeback after her daughter Tessa was born. At the ripe age of 39, just three weeks after giving birth, Torres was back in the pool at the Masters Nationals where she broke a world record. She then wenton to qualify for her fifth Olympics. Fellow swimmer Summer Sanders who is married to three-time Olympic skier Erik Schlopy, has a daughter and a son and Amanda Beard, who has son named Blaise, gave birth to her second child – a daughter- last year.
Other images from the world of women’s sports clearly show the tide has turned. Legendary Czech cross county skier Katerina Neumannova collapsed on her knees at the finish line after winning gold in the 30-kilometre race at the 2006 Turin Olympics, her poles askew as she hugged her two-year-old daughter, Lucie. Former Ironman world champion Lori Bowden placed second at Ironman Austria, just 10 months after giving birth to her son Tyson. And pro cyclist Sue Palmar-Komar, a 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, at age 41, had a sibling for her seven-year-old daughter Trinity.
And who can forget Paula Radcliffe, arguably the greatest woman’s distance runner of all time, who won the New York Marathon months after giving birth to daugher Isla. Kara Goucher is the newest marathon mom – having completed the Boston race last year six months after having her son.
Most of these working moms admit they can’t do it alone. And while their spouses and families pitch in, they are also assisted by their leagues and teams. Potter said USA Hockey provides helpful financial assistance during Olympic years. And before the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded, the league mandated that home teams must provide child care for the mothers on visiting teams. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) takes things to a whole new level. Since 1993, the LPGA has operated the LPGA Child Development Center, which travels to more than 25 tournaments per year. Bardine May, the Center’s director, said the LPGA was motivated to provide child care so that its athletes didn’t have to choose between playing the game and having a family.
There are many different kinds of mothers in this world. Working moms, homemakers, politicians, fashionistas, artists and advocates. Although it may not have been true a generation ago, many moms are competitive athletes as well. While all moms should be recognized on Mother’s Day, we’d like to single out the very special moms who manage to balance their family and their career as an athlete.
Happy Mother’s Day! Be sure to tell YOUR mom how much you appreciate her this Mother’s Day.