From Uncoditional Love to World Record Dreams, Mothers That Rule Track and Field World
The track and field sport has seen many mom athletes over the years. From Fanny Blankers-Koen in the early 1940s to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in most recent years, these supermoms have made a huge impact on the sport. It is a difficult job to juggle motherhood and a pro athletics career, but to these women, it comes like second nature.
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They have defied the expectations of those who believe women athletes ought to retire after childbirth. These great women have shown that motherhood need not be an end to a sporting career; rather, it can be a new beginning. In this regard, there are a few wonderful women athletes who have changed the course of the sport with their determination to turn motherhood into a source of inspiration.
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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was until recently the 100m world champion till American ace Sha’Carri Richardson came along. The 36-year-old is still the national champion in her home country and is one of the fastest women sprinters in the world. She is also mom to 6-year-old son Zyon, whom she often credits for her motivation. Fraser-Pryce is preparing for the Paris Olympics to dominate in a track full of the world’s best sprinters. Recently, she put that training to use in her son’s school sports day and gave the other moms a crushing defeat.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce wanted to bow out from the competition, but a fellow mom goaded her into competing. Still, she was reluctant until Zyon crashed in his own event and came third to the podium. She had to reclaim the reputation of the family and took part in the race. She even warmed up before the race to show how serious she was about the match. Naturally, no one came close to her in terms of both speed and time.
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American sprinting legend Allyson Felix had the undisputed support of Nike during her long and illustrious career. However, that all changed when the company slighted her during her pregnancy. The company offered her a new contract when she was pregnant with her daughter Camryn, which offered her only 30% of what she earned in the previous contract. They also refused to put certain maternity protection clauses in the new contract.
To add injury to insult, Nike asked Allyson Felix to feature in a women empowerment ad campaign for them. She called it “beyond disrespectful and tone-deaf” and ultimately left the brand for Athleta, where women’s rights were respected. Since her protest, Nike has changed its policies and offers deals that can be acceptable to pregnant athletes. They have also ensured payment protections for both expecting athletes and staff members.
American athlete Nia Ali proved that it is possible to stay at the top of the sport even after giving birth. Ali returned to the track just months after the delivery of her first child, Titus Maximus, in 2015. She won the world indoor championships and even earned a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. Now, the mother of three says her kids are her “toughest critics” and that they push her to give her best.
Recently, the 34-year-old entered the World Championships in Budapest for a bid in the 100m hurdles. She won her heat, showing immense promise for the finals. However, she lost the 100m hurdle world title to Jamaica’s Danielle Williams. Her children are harshest when she fails, and after this race, they must have given her an earful. However, Ali is glad to have their criticism, as they keep her humble.
The kids are especially happy when the athlete comes back home after a whole day’s training and gives her the time to gather her energy. With such a deep understanding of an athlete’s needs and competitive spirit, they are budding stars in their own rights.
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill is a role model for all new mothers still. The three-time world champion earned her last world title just 13 months after giving birth to her first child, Reggie. She said that motherhood took her motivation to a whole new level. She wanted to set down a legacy that her children could be proud of. Ennis Hill retired from the sport in 2016 because it was heartbreaking to leave her children behind while she went to the competitions.
Now, as a former athlete, she finds it difficult to let go of any control over her life. Her children have free reign to make their own choices. She said, “But when you have kids, you learn they aren’t predictable and you can’t control everything”. Ennis Hill misses her days in athletics, but now her children are her top priority.
Among the strong moms on this list, Paula Radcliffe stands out as a true inspiration. She stays strong not just for her own sake but for her ailing child as well. The three-time London Marathon winner did not expect life to deal her such a big blow. She was left in tatters when the doctors told her that her 14-year-old daughter Isla Lough had a rare cancer growing in her body. During the initial tests, they found a tumor in one of her ovaries and sent it for further analysis. Radcliffe held out hope that it might be a benign growth, but the tests confirmed it to be cancer.
She started crying in deep agony but pulled herself together before Isla came into the doctor’s chambers. Isla Lough was a budding athlete before this disease paused her training. Paula Radcliffe first noticed something was wrong when her daughter started feeling painful cramps during her periods. She was also bleeding profusely in between her periods. Isla is on chemotherapy to control the growth of the malignant germ cell tumor, and there is still hope that she can make it through.
Faith Kipyegon needed an emergency Caesarean section, and that worried her if she would ever make it back to her beloved sport. But as the records would show, she made a triumphant comeback a year later in the Prefontaine Classic. In the following months, the Kenyan legend also took part in the World Championships and left with a silver medal. In current history made this year, she has rewritten three world records to become the fastest woman runner in the 1500m, 5000m, and the mile events.
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Bahamian legend Shaune Miller-Uibo shocked everyone by returning to the tracks four months after giving birth to her son Maicel. She took part in the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest and sped through the 400m distance in the season-best time of 52.65. While explaining how she missed the sport, Miller-Uibo also spoke about how childbirth affects a woman’s body. She said, “Childbirth is pretty hard on the body”. However, she is still determined to give the best care to her son and even plans to breastfeed till he is two years old.
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These seven legendary women are carrying on the rich tradition of indomitable mom athletes who came before them. They are also the source of inspiration for the new generation of athletes entering the sport. These women have proven that there is no great obstacle that cannot be conquered with hardships and determination.