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Sporting Supermoms!

Updated: May 11, 2022

✦ Each and every mother is a superhero in her own right. Right across the world, mothers are rightfully upheld as truly inspirational figures, the fulcrum of the family that nurture, guide and support. We all know how important a role they play within our lives and we will all be forever grateful to them for all they do.

Returning to a career as a professional athlete can be challenging for mothers as featured in Brilliant-Online
Preparing to return to a career as a professional athlete can be challenging for mothers

Balancing motherhood and a career has always presented challenges but for the purpose of this piece we decided to focus on mothers whose career is that of a professional athlete. Whereas there are literally countless examples of women returning to the track, court, pitch or pool after giving birth, we have focused on a select number here to highlight their respective stories.

There have been numerous examples of female tennis players who have returned to the court after giving birth.

Arguably the most famous is Australian Margaret Court. Despite her controversial stance on LGBT and same-sex marriage since retiring from the sport, Court is remembered as a bona fide legend on it, and for good reason. She became the first woman in the Open era to win the singles Grand Slam of all four major tournaments in one calendar year (the Australian, French, US Opens and Wimbledon) and went on to amass more major titles than any other player in history. Her singles career-winning percentage of 91.74 is still regarded as the best of all time.

Court lost the 1971 Wimbledon singles final to fellow Aussie Evonne Goolagong Cawley when she was pregnant with her first child Daniel, who was born the following year. She returned in 1973 and went on to win a further three Grand Slam titles, the only woman in the Open era to win a major after childbirth, before the birth of her second child, daughter Marika, in 1974. Court had two further children and continued to juggle motherhood with battles on the court before she finally hung up her racquet in 1976 following the Australian Open.

Not only did Evonne Goolagong Cawley share many titanic battles with compatriot Margert Court on the tennis court during the 1970s but she also lays claim to becoming a mother who continued to dominate her profession, becoming the first mother to win the Wimbledon singles title in 66 years in 1980, three years after the birth of her daughter Kelly.

Goolagong Cawley became a grandmother in 2013, telling the Sydney Morning Herald: “I used to say during my career that the biggest gift was having my children. But this is my second-best gift and better than any trophy. I’m very excited... I can’t wait to babysit.”

Still on court, Kim Clijsters is one of the most well known and well loved names on the women’s circuit, winning six major titles and achieving world No.1 ranking in both singles and doubles, which she held simultaneously in 2003.

The Belgian gave birth to a daughter, Jada Elly Lynch, in 2008, but was soon back out on the court, winning the US Open in 2009 and 2010 and the Australian Open a year later. She was also the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.

Tennis Phenomenon

Serena Williams needs no introduction. A tennis phenomenon who stands just one win away from equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. In September 2017, Williams gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia. The pregnancy was not without complication as two pulmonary embolisms left the new mother bedridden for six weeks, delaying her return to training.

However, it wasn’t long before she was back on court, playing an exhibition match at the World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on December 30, 2017. She won her first singles title as a mother at the 2020 ASB Classic and, whereas she hasn’t quite been the dominant force she once was, she continues to compete at the highest level as she chases Court’s record.

Acknowledging the struggles of juggling motherhood and a professional sports career, Williams admits it is the average working mom that continues to inspire her to keep going, telling in a 2020 interview: “I think of what they do literally every single day to support their family and to be a rock for their family. And it helps me keep going. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think that women are just really amazing.”

Many mothers have returned to their careers as elite athletes as featured in Brilliant-Online
Many mothers have returned to their careers as elite athletes

There are so many other examples of female athletes that have returned to their respective sports and continued to shine after becoming mothers.

UFC is rightfully regarded as one of the, if not THE, most brutal sports around. Brazilian fighter Amanda Nunes, the current women’s featherweight champion, gave birth to her first child in September 2020 and was back in the octagon less than six months later to defend her title with a first round win against opponent Megan Anderson.

'The Pregnant Runner'

One of the most inspiring stories involves American Allyson Felix, the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history. The five-time Olympian has won medals at every single Games she has competed in from Athens in 2004 to Tokyo in 2020. However, her biggest triumph was her newborn daughter fighting for survival after being born two months prematurely due to a severe case of preeclampsia in late 2018.

Felix watched on desperately as her brave infant fought for 29 days in the newborn intensive care unit of the hospital in Los Angeles. Fortunately, little baby Camryn was strong enough to pull through and is now a fit and healthy three-year-old, bringing joy to Felix and her husband each and every day.

The experience motivated Felix to compete again in track and field. During the COVID-19-enforced lockdown, she trained alone in empty fields, streets and beaches with the aim of qualifying for her fifth Olympics in Tokyo – her first as a mom. She succeeded in joining the U.S. team and went onto to win bronze in the 400 metres final and gold in the 4 x 400 metres final.

Fellow track and field star Nia Ali gave birth to her first son, Titus Maximus, in 2015. The American hurdler took a year off but then stormed back to blow the competition away, winning gold in the 60 metre hurdles finals at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships, carrying young her young son around the track as part of her victory lap!

Ali also went on to win silver in the 100 metres hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and gold at the World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019. She has since had a daughter and another son with her partner, Canadian Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse.

Alysia Montaño is an American middle-distance runner, widely known as “the pregnant runner”. In 2014 she competed in the USATF’s USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships while eight months pregnant. She finished in last place in a field of 29 athletes in the 800 meters preliminaries and gave birth to daughter Linnea Dori on August 15, 2014. In June 2015, Alysia returned and won the 800 meters final of the US Trials and qualified for the World Athletics Championships 2015 in Beijing.

Dara Torres is a former Olympic swimmer who won 12 Olympic medals, four of which were gold. A former world record-holder in three events, Torres is the first swimmer to represent the US in five Olympic games. She gave birth to her first child aged 41 in 2008 and then created history as she not only became the oldest member on a US Olympic swim team but won a silver medal in the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Games.

At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Dame Sarah Storey became the most decorated British Paralympian of all time when she won the women’s cycling road race C4-5 event. Participating in cycling and swimming, Storey is one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes of all time who has the unique distinction of winning five gold medals in Paralympics before turning 19 years of age.

She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, in 2013 and a son in 2017, successfully managing to juggle the demands of being a mom with being a superstar athlete!

Paula Radcliffe was a long-distance runner from the UK who won the London and New York Marathons three times each and represented Britain at four consecutive Olympics. She gave birth to her first daughter at the start of 2007 and was back competing before the year was out, winning the New York marathon in the November!

We could go on and on and must apologise to the many fantastic moms out there in the sporting world that we haven’t paid coverage to. Last but not least though, we wanted to mention a few super moms who have not only excelled themselves at their sport but have then used their experience to teach their children first hand to enable them to step up to the plate of international sports competition.

Judy Murray was an outstanding tennis player as a youngster, amassing 64 national titles in her native Scotland before choosing an academic route instead. However, her skills were not wasted as she helped tutor both her sons, Jamie and Andy, who have both gone onto hugely successful careers - Jamie is a seven-time Grand Slam doubles champion and Andy is a three-time Grand Slam winner, two-time Olympic champion and former World No.1. Judy has also coached many players for the British Lawn Tennis Association and captained the British Fed Cup team from 2011 until 2016.

Finally, Liz McColgan, a middle and long-distance runner and a former world champion and Olympic silver medallist in the 10,000 metres, who now coaches her daughter Eilish. With mom at her side providing invaluable advice as coach, Eilish is aiming to literally follow in her mom’s footsteps. She is already on course as a two-time Olympian in the 5000 metre race and 3000 metre steeplechase and late last year managed to break one of her mom’s long standing records in the Scottish 10-mile race.


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