These women are inspirational because they are (or were) at the top of their game when they became pregnant or went on to deliver amazing sporting achievements after birth. When you are a sportswoman at an elite level, it’s all about the planning, particularly if you are aspiring to be an Olympic athlete. However planning doesn’t always happen the way you expect – having a baby is not just about making the decision to get pregnant, first you need to know you have the right partner, and the right time. Even then, as any woman of childbearing age knows, falling pregnant might not be instant and might take months. It’s unpredictable.
A few years ago, I suddenly decided I wanted to have children. I’d already been married for a few years but children just hadn’t been in my mind. Then when my Nan died, I realised “she won’t see her grandchildren”, and it was literally an overnight decision. However I was training hard at the time for the upcoming cyclo-cross season. I was fitter than I’d ever been. I’d also read that falling pregnant takes 6-9 months on average. Wow, I was not the average, because I must have fallen pregnant on the first try! Which truly messed up my race season. At first I was a bit miffed but as my GP pointed out, that “average” includes everybody, and I was healthy and fit. I should point out that I was never at the level of the women below. I was only ever in the elite category in my dreams!
Here is my list of ten inspirational sportswomen who are also mums.
- Jo Pavey
Track athlete Jo has competed in an amazing four Olympic Games and is on target for 2016 too. In August, Jo became the oldest woman to win gold at a European Championships with her 10,000m victory, this coming just a few days after winning bronze in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m. She has two children (her second child was only born last year) and attributes her new-found success to being a mum. She has less time to be quite so obsessive and has to be more focussed in her approach to training.
- Jessica Ennis-Hill
In January this year, the Olympic Heptathlon champion shared the news that she was expecting her first child, and this ruled her out of the 2014 season. Although she missed this year’s Commonwealth Games and European Championships, she is now back in training after giving birth in July and she is determined to be at Rio in 2016.
- Paula Radcliffe
Long-distance runner Paula holds the world marathon record 2:15:25 (better than my half marathon time!). She has two children born in 2007 and in 2010. She won the London Marathon three times, New York three times, and the 2002 Chicago Marathon. She won the New York marathon, just 10 months after giving birth to her first daughter. Despite medals in the World and Commonwealth championships, she is yet to win a medal at the Olympics. Word on the street is that she will be running London Marathon in 2015. Maybe she’ll be my pacer!
- Kim Clijsters
The now retired Belgian tennis player has two children. Her last singles match of her career was in the 2012 US Open against the British Laura Robson. A prolific winner and player, Kim is a former No 1 player in both singles and doubles. She won four Grand Slam titles (US Open 3 times, and the Australian Open in 2011). She announced her first retirement in 2007 to start a family. However she came back to the professional circuit in 2009, a year after her daughter’s birth, winning the US Open, and retaining the title the following year. In 2011, not only did she take back the world’s No 1 ranking, she also won the Australian Open. She retired again in 2012 and gave birth to her second child in 2013.
- Dame Sarah Storey
Multiple medal-winning Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey started her sporting career in the swimming pool, representing Great Britain for several years. In 2005, she had to take a break from swimming because of multiple ear infections, and she took to the bike to maintain her conditioning and fitness. By the end of 2005, she had broken the world record for the Paracycling 3,000m Individual Pursuit. She competes against able-bodied athletes outside of the Paralympic Games and is extremely successful in women’s cycling. She has won a total of won 11 Gold, 8 Silver and 3 Bronze medals across 6 Paralympic Games, and across two sports: swimming and cycling, each of which has multiple events. She had a baby girl in June last year and apparently was back in training 6 weeks later.
- Nicola Spirig
Swiss-born Nicola is a professional triathlete and won Olympic Gold in London 2012, winning in a photo finish from Lisa Norden of Sweden. She is one of the world’s top triathletes. She has a son born last year, and continues to compete and win at the very top levels of the sport.
- Sally Gunnell
Sally was a top athlete during the 1990s, starting off with long jump and heptathlon, and specialised in hurdles as it became clear that she had a special talent and skill in this event. At one time she held all the major 400m hurdles titles at the same time: European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic. She has three sons, and I remember reading her articles in magazines about how to get back to fitness after childbirth.
- Zara Phillips
She won individual gold and team silver at the World Equestrian Games in 2006; she was then voted Sports Personality of the Year; team gold at the 2007 European Eventing Championships; she competed in the London 2012 Games winning team silver. She had her first daughter in January 2014 and says she wants to complete in the 2016 Olympics.
- Tanni Grey-Thompson
Surely one of Britain’s most famous Paralympic athletes, her Paralympic career started in 1994 when she competed for Wales in the Junior National Games. She has won an amazing 16 Paralympic medals, 11 of which are gold, as well as won the London Marathon no less than six times, and held over 30 world records in her sporting career. Her daughter was born in 2002, and like others on this list, she made an impressive comeback after birth.
- Mary King
Mary was an equestrian, and multiple Olympic medallist. She competed in the European Championships when five months pregnant which I think is pretty brave. I know I stopped competing around that time – but racing on a bike with a big belly touching the cross bar was uncomfortable as much as anything, plus the regular loo breaks needed. She won six team gold medals in the World Equestrian Games and European Championships. She was 5th in the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as winning team silver. She competed in her first Badminton trials in 1985 and eventually won this in 1992, and again in 2000. What is amazing about Mary is that she broke her neck in a fall in 2001, and yet less than a year later, she was back competing at the top level.
What about you? Who are the sportswomen mums that you admire?