Boxer Mary Kom is indeed a true SUPER mom, she returned to the boxing ring after motherhood. Sania Mirza too briefly returned to the court after motherhood. The US Open 2020 tournament saw four mothers, including the celebrated legendary star Serena Williams, on the court and such stories of women performing super human tasks are on the rise as the world moves ahead albeit very slowly towards women’s empowerment and social inclusivity.
In Depth @ Trinity Mirror takes a peek at a few women who have broken glass ceilings to prove that motherhood need not be an obstacle to achieving goals in professional sports. While women working in other spheres of activity may be common, it indeed takes special effort for a sportsperson to return to the arena after motherhood and such stories are truly inspiring for the future generations.
Victoria Azarenka, who beat Serena Williams in the semi-final at the US Open, is also a Super mom. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova were the first trio of mothers to reach the quarterfinals of the same Grand Slam, 2020 US Open. And all of them have been vocal about the pleasures and pitfalls of being a mom on tour.
There were nine mothers in the draw when the tournament got underway on August 31. “I’m so happy that there are so many moms in the event, obviously, because I’m one,” Williams, said earlier in the tournament. “I just have a totally new respect for moms.”
“I’m so proud of the ladies. It’s incredible,” Azarenka said in a TV interview. “I’m just really happy to see that. I hope we all keep going as far as possible. It’s inspiring. I hope it’s inspiring for other women that they continue to go for their dreams and don’t only identify as mothers, but continue to do what they want to do.”
When Serena Williams, an American professional tennis player returned to tennis after her daughter Olympia was born, she advocated for a change in the way rankings are calibrated after pregnancy. Her own drop in rank was precipitous, from a pre-natal No. 1 in the world to the post-natal No. 453 ranking that she was assigned going into the 2018 French Open.
Serena almost died after delivering her daughter Olympia via emergency C-section. The tennis star, who has a history of developing blood clots, suffered a pulmonary embolism, meaning blood clots had blocked one or more of the arteries in her lungs, she wrote in a CNN opinion piece.
From there, the problems only worsened. “Intense coughing” caused by the embolism led Williams to rip her C-section wound, and when she went in for surgery, doctors discovered a large hematoma, or swelling of clotted blood, in her abdomen which was removed after much complication. She had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.
“I love tennis and now more than anything I have so much to look forward to just playing,” she said after recovering.
Victória Fyódorovna Azárenka, Belarusian professional tennis player who is also a mother juggling between motherhood and Tennis. Like Williams, Azarenka name-checks her two-year-old son, Leo, in her Instagram bio: “I love my son @leoamac7,” it reads.
“Well, there is a lot that goes into it in terms of balancing, you know, a lot of things, and juggling two things. But identifying myself or other players just as mothers, I think that’s not the only thing that we are.
“I think we are part of, you know, being a mother, we are also tennis players. We are also women who have dreams and goals and passions. My life just began when I became a mother. I’ll say that really openly,” Azarenka said.
Azarenka wants to set an example for her son so that he gets inspired by her journey. “Because I think for the kids, and I hope for my son, really, it’s inspiring that I still want to do what I want to do, and I work really hard for that. I want to be the example to my son. I’m pretty sure that other ladies have that and share that same feeling as I do.”
Tsvetana Pironkova , a Bulgarian professional tennis player is also among the list of Super moms who rocked the US Open 20020.
That she is a mother should not define her performance on court; that can only be judged on skill. Skill that saw her knock out two seeded players – Garbine Muguruza and Donna Vekic – to reach the second week of the US Open.
More than three years ago Pironkova played her last professional match, it was in the All England Club at Wimbledon when she lost to the Danish Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.
And yet Pironkova came back now – against all expectations, against her earlier life plans. “At some point I thought: That couldn’t have been all in tennis,” says the 32-year-old, “then I accepted the challenge and planned my comeback.” At first it went stupid, because just when she announced her return , the traveling circus went into corona standstill in March.
Speaking on how she manages motherhood and tennis, Pironkova said “If you make a good schedule and have the right motivation, you can combine the two things, motherhood and being a professional tennis player. It takes a lot of work but, you know, everything takes work.”
Dr. Raji, Assistant Surgeon: Motherhood can never stop a woman from achieving her dreams, but the mental and physical stress that she has to undergo after motherhood is immense, especially in case of sports. Seeing Serena Williams glow on the field after undergoing complications like pulmonary embolism is really aspiring. A proper diet and healthy mind can always keep them on track. Family support also plays a vital role. Women should plan their family and pregnancy so that they can take a break from their career to withstand the emotional and mental stress. Proper planning will also keep them going, I guess proper planning has what made Serena get back on her tracks.
Dr. P.Uma Maheshwari, Physiotherapist, Anirudha Medical Organisation: Medically speaking, motherhood does change a woman but with a proper diet nothing can hold a woman from returning to sports. By proper diet I mean healthy intake of all nutrients, people nowadays have an assumption that, to starve is to stay on a healthy diet. Sportswomen have their own special workouts that help them go hand in hand with motherhood and sports. You just have to pick yourself up and keep working without letting your motherhood from holding you back.
Fitness trainer Radhika Sudarshan, founder of Emerging Fit Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Center, Chennai, responded thus to the queries of In Depth @ Trinity Mirror:
How much of a physical and emotional stress should such athletes overcome?
Firstly, to me every mom is a Super mom in herself. Since the amount of love, care, dedication, and affection a mother showers upon her child and family is unmatchable.
This goes a notch higher when the women continues to show the same feelings towards her own passion (be it sports, arts, education or any professional career).
It is no wonder a tough call for any woman to take immediately after the birth of her child. But at the end, the only thing that sets such women apart from the rest is their persistent practice, belief, faith and the undying spirit to bounce back twice as hard and give it all they have got. Being a mom, a woman already learns to multi task. And when this meets with the right mind set, such women create history.
What kind of a mental status should they be in to take such tough decisions of returning to the playing arena post motherhood?
Once an athlete, always an athlete. It should be encouraged undoubtedly. As this opens up new horizons of possibilities not only for the athlete but also for the country at a national level. Additionally, we will have an absolutely brilliant generation who can witness their moms’ abilities and get inspired and motivated. As we know, it all starts at home. What better can a child see than seeing his/her mom pursue her passion and learn from it while growing up.
Will the physical changes of motherhood be beneficial or disadvantage for such sportspersons when they return to active sports?
Of course! Being a mother, the athlete becomes doubly conscious about her practice, performance, timing, strength and puts in every ounce of herself to prove her competence. Knowing the level of competition around them, the moms tend to become extremely focused and that’s exactly how we get to see some Super Stars in every field.
Mary Kom, fondly dubbed as ‘Magnificent Mary’ by the International Boxing Association is a four-time world champion boxer and a mother of three.
An inspiration to sportspersons all over India and a guiding light for youngsters who want to take up boxing, this gritty boxer has shown that no hardship or problem is insurmountable. And, when everyone thought that her sporting career was over after she had three children, the boxing star came back to the ring with renewed energy.
An encouraging mom to her kids, Mary says she can balance work and home by being quick in her decisions, just as she is in the boxing ring.
When asked what is her mantra to balance family and work, she says, “Just like the boxing ring, I am swift and quick in my decision and action in my daily life too. This enables me to accomplish several tasks. Being on time (and waking up early), helps me tackle my various responsibilities.”
A Khel Ratna awardee, Mary Kom has clinched virtually every international medal which is there to be won except for the Olympics where women’s boxing would make its debut in 2012.
The most successful female Indian Tennis player in history, Sania Mirza also shines among the super moms who staged a great comeback on to her field of sporting activity after attaining motherhood.
Not many tennis players have enjoyed success after motherhood. And of all the mothers who have returned to tennis, Sania Mirza enjoyed the most immediate success. One of India’s most popular sporting icons, she is a living proof that young mothers need not abandon their career.
“A lot of people questioned it even when I was trying to make a comeback – how did you find time to lose so much weight. There is so much that happens with your body after you give motherhood. You just have to sort of adapt, find a way to take out two hours from your day to work out and try to find that balance. It’s also good for your own sanity as well, to find time to yourself.I want to be the best mother and the best player I can be. I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself, but I am giving my best as a mother and as a sports person ,” she said when speaking on how she manages to balance family and career.
“Serena is an inspiration, not just for me or other tennis players but for all sports women,” she added.
How does it feel to be a sports mom? “I don’t think I felt very maternal until I got pregnant and then everything changed. Whatever I ate, did or thought about was for my child that was yet to be born. And once, Izhaan was born, his needs and welfare were all that became the focus of my attention. My parents have done all they could for me and Anam (her sister) and I want to be the perfect mother to my son.”
Christie Rampone has always been a force on the soccer field and that certainly didn’t change after she became a mom. Pre-kids, Rampone represented the U.S. on the women’s team at the World Cup and Olympic Games and she continued doing so after her two children were born.
Rampone made not just one comeback, but two. She played in the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games after her first daughter, Rylie, was born in 2005. In fact, Rampone played her first professional comeback game less than four months after motherhood. She came back to soccer again after daughter Reece was born in 2010 with a second-place finish at the 2011 World Cup. In the 2012 London Olympics, Rampone led the U.S. team to gold as captain, playing all 570 minutes of the six matches.
Nia Ali is an American track and field athlete. She specialises in the 100-metre hurdles, heptathlon and other events. Ali is married to American Olympian Michael Tinsley, who is also a track and field athlete.
Nia took a year off in 2015 to give birth to her son Titus. She returned to the track in the very next year and successfully defended the World Indoor Championships title. After winning, she carried her son on the victory lap.
In 2018, she gave birth to her daughter Yuri. The following year she won the world championship in 100-meter hurdles and again in the victory lap, she carried both her children along with her.
“Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean that you can’t get out here and continue to be an athlete as well, a top, world-class athlete. I know [Yuri] is going to look up to me and look at this and it’s definitely going to keep her motivated and show what strength really looks like to be able to go through this and train hard and be on top.”
Compiled by: Preethi Jayaraman
Edited by: Trinity Mirror Online Team