COLORADO SPRINGS — Equality in women’s sports has long been an issue - whether it's pay, marketing, or time for family. Thousands of Olympic and Paralympic athletes train in our community, and some of the mothers have run into these roadblocks.
Working moms are everywhere, so why turn to elite athletes for answers to women’s equality in the workplace? Sports reflect our culture and that’s what makes athletes such powerful agents for change. They have a platform.
Paralympian Melissa Stockwell is a Colorado Springs mother of two who has experienced the hurdles of motherhood with training and competition. She says, “It almost seems like after every Olympics there’s this post-Olympic baby boom. This way you can have your baby and then have time to train again if you want to make the next one. There’s a very specific window.”
A window Stockwell tried to make before the Rio 2016 games explaining, “I knew I needed to have time to have the baby, recover, figure out breastfeeding and come back and get back into that elite athletic shape.” She says a lot of athletes have very specific time periods, ‘Where if you don’t get pregnant right away you may have to wait another four years.”
Add the pandemic into it all and athletes who were nursing newborns at the time of the 2021 and 2022 Olympics weren't even sure they could bring their babies.
A handful of Olympic runners recently called out the sports industry that celebrated women’s decisions to have children in its marketing but cut their pay when they missed races because of pregnancy and childbirth. The United States is the only rich country that doesn’t require paid leave for parents. Thankfully teams, sporting bodies, companies, government groups, and individuals are fighting for change.
Last year Olympian Allison Phoenix partnered with Athleta to support mother athletes by creating a Childcare Fund. The five-time Olympian has talked about her difficulty juggling the two worlds and her concern for the lack of care toward new moms.
The program has committed $200,000 to help fund child care costs for mothers who are also athletes while they are traveling to competitions. The message travels much further than the sports world.
And things are starting to change. Stockwell explained a recent change to their contracts, “A maternity clause so if we have a baby we can put our national team status on hold and then resume that. It was not there when I had my kids.”
But for Stockwell there is no greater accomplishment than achieving both of her dreams, “I get to be a mom and an athlete and there’s nothing better than that.”
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