The history of sports is increasingly filling up with examples of women who are making successful comebacks to sports after motherhood.
One of the standout images from the recently concluded Women’s World Cup was Bismah Maroof and her daughter Fatima. The World Cup had close to eight mothers who made successful returns to elite sports after starting families.
Serena Williams, Allyson Felix, Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce are just a few of a long list of women who are proving they can do it all.
On Mothers Day 2022, Sportstar looks at ‘the Incredibles,’ sports moms who have continued to find success in their careers after motherhood.
Dame Valerie Adams – Athletics
This New Zealander is a former four-time World champion, two-time Olympic champion and three-time Commonwealth Games champion. With several records to her name and a career spanning over 22 years, Adams won three Olympic medals (two gold and a silver) and four Commonwealth Games medals (3 gold and one silver) till 2017 after which she skipped a season due to her pregnancy. She gave birth to her daughter Kimoana Josephine Adams-Price and came back a year later to win another silver at the CWG in 2018. Adams also had a baby boy in 2019 and returned to scalp a medal in her fourth Olympics in Tokyo 2020, where she won bronze with a throw of 19.62 m.
She ended her illustrious career with 15 golds, four silvers and two bronze medals including four Olympic medals and five World championship medals. Adams announced her retirement this year but wil continue to coach her sister Lisa who has cerebral palsy and is the reigning world and Paralympic champion in the F37 shot put category.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – Athletics
Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce rose to prominence in 2008 after becoming the first Caribbean woman to win gold in the 100m sprint at the Beijing Olympics. At the 2012 London Olympics, she became only the third woman to defend her 100m title at an Olympics. However, she was unable to defend her title at Rio, where she won bronze in the event. The Jamaican won six Olympic and nine World Championship medals, making her the first woman to win three 100m world titles. In 2017, Fraser-Pryce announced that she was pregnant and unable to compete in the World Championships, but she returned to the track just nine months after giving birth to her son Zyon. At the 2019 Doha World Championships, she won her fourth 100m title in 10.71s- her fastest time since 2013 and also assisted Jamaica win the 4 x 100m relay. After conceding the 100m gold Tokyo 2020 to Elaine Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce bounced back with a win in the Lausanne Diamond League with a personal best time of 10.60s in August 2021. As recently as this week, she posted the fastest 100m in the world this year as she clocked 10.67secs to win her season opener in Nairobi.
Serena Williams – Tennis
Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles in singles, making her only the second player to achieve this feat. Her quest for that 24th Grand Slam to equal Margaret Court’s record came to a halt when she became pregnant in 2017. Incidentally, she was two months pregnant when she won her seventh Australian Open title in January 2017 without dropping a single set. In September 2017, she gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. She returned to court in 2018, where she advanced to her tenth Wimbledon finals and first as a mother. She lost to Angelique Kerber in the finals, after which she reached the 2019 Wimbledon finals and US Open finals in 2018, 2019. However, she lost all three. Putting an end to her losing streak at the finals, she finally won her first finals as a mother at the 2020 ASB Classic. She has found herself constantly plagued with injuries and still hunts for that elusive record-equalling GS title.
Allyson Felix – Athletics
Allyson Felix is among the most recognisable names in American athleics. Starting out with the 200m sprint, she switched to 400m later, despite winning accolades in 100m sprint and relay events. Prior to 2018, she had won nine Olympic medals (six gold, three silver medals) and 16 World Championship medals (11 gold, three silver, and two bronze medals). Camryn, her daughter, was born in November 2018. She returned to the track and finished sixth in the 400m sprint at the US championships in July 2019. She then went on to win her 12th and 13th gold medal in the mixed gender 4x400m relay and women’s 4x400m relay respectively, overtaking Usain Bolt as the athlete with the most gold medals in the World Athletics Championship. She broke another record in Tokyo 2020, winning gold in the women’s 4x400m relay and bronze in the 400m sprint, making her the first female track and field athlete to win seven Olympic gold medals. She also broke Carl Lewis’ record for the most medals won by an American track and field athlete, with 11 from five Olympics.
Felix also famously took on Nike in an op-ed in The New York Times in 2019 where she revealed that the sports apparel brand had told her it would pay her 70 per cent less than she earned before motherhood. She also risked penalties if she didn’t keep up pre-motherhood levels. In response, Nike announced a maternity policy which guaranteed pay for athletes and bonuses for 18 months surrounding said athlete’s pregnancy.
Kristin Armstrong – Cycling
In 2001, Kristin Armstrong, who was formerly a triathlon runner, was asked to focus on cycling due to osteoarthritis in both hips. Having won the national championship thrice by 2004, she finished eighth in the women’s road race at the Athens Olympic Games. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she won gold in the women’s road time trial event, finishing under 35 minutes. In September 2010, she gave birth to a boy, Lucas William Savola and at the end of the year decided to return to competitive cycling with the London Olympics in mind. Armstrong defended her Olympic title in the individual time trial in London. Soon after, she announced her retirement from the sport but changed her mind in 2015. She fought for her chance to compete in the 2016 Olympics, but the wait was worth it as she won her third gold medal in the women’s individual time trial, becoming the first rider ever to win three gold medals in the same discipline. She was also the oldest rider to win the event, one day before her 43rd birthday.
Dana Vollmer – Athletics
This five-time Olympic gold medallist from the United States has a total of 32 medals from various international competitions. Dana won gold in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, breaking a 17-year-old world record. Despite missing out on the 2008 Olympic team, she came back strong in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, collecting five medals in total. Dana had a stellar 2012, winning three gold medals, including the 100m butterfly, where she set a new world record (55.98s), which was later surpassed by Sarah Sjostrom. In 2014, she gave birth to Arlen Jackson Grant. She competed in the Rio Olympics two years later, winning three medals in the 4×100 medley relay, 4×100 freestyle relay, and 100m butterfly, respectively. In July 2017, Dana gave birth to her second son, Ryker Alexander Grant. In 2019, she announced her retirement from competitive swimming.
Kim Clijsters – Tennis
Kim Clijsters has won six Grand Slam championships, four in singles and two in doubles. The first Belgian player to reach the No 1 ranking in 2003, Clijsters has 41 singles WTA Tour titles and 11 doubles titles to her name. With frequent injuries, she retired from tennis in 2007 and gave birth to her daughter Jada in 2008. However, she returned to the court two years later to win her second US Open title, which she successfully defended the following year. She became the first mother to earn world No. 1 status after winning the 2011 Australian Open. After the 2012 US Open, she called it quits again equaling Margaret Court’s record of three Grand Slam victories won as a mother after which she gave birth to two sons Jack in 2013 and Blake in 2016. Seven years after her retirement, she wanted to return in 2020 for the second time, but her plans fell through and and she called time on her tennis career earlier this year.
Bismah Maroof – Cricket
An all-rounder, who has played over 200 matches for Pakistan and captaining the team from 2013 to 2022, Maroof was the first woman to score 1000 runs in ODIs for Pakistan. Making her debut in 2006 at the age of 15 against India in the Women’s Asian Cup, the Pakistan captain has come a long way. She was a part of the team that won gold at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games and later was made captain for both WODIs and WT20Is. She continued to play despite health concerns prior to the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup. She was named captain for the 2020 T20 World Cup, but was injured during a match against England, forcing her to miss the rest of the tournament. She took a break from the field in April 2021 to give birth to Fatima, but returned six months later to play in the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand with her infant by her side. She currently holds the record for the most runs scored in WODIs without scoring a century, with 2746 runs.
Mary Kom – Boxing
This Indian boxer is the only woman to win the World Amateur Boxing Championship six times, only female boxer to win a medal in seven World Championships and the only boxer to win eight World Championship medals. She had won four World Championship medals (three gold and one silver) and two Asian Games titles prior to the birth of her twins in 2007. A year after she gave birth to Rechungvar Kom and Khupneivar Kom, she competed in Asian and World Championships winning silver and gold respectively. This was her fourth successive gold at the Worlds. She was the only female boxer to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in the 51kg category and win a bronze medal. She gave birth to her third child in 2013, Prince Chungthanglen Kom and a year later became the first Indian female boxer to win gold in the 2014 Asian Games and later the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Her last international medal was a bronze at the Worlds in 2019 as she failed to qualify for the medal round in Tokyo 2020.
In her teens, Sarita Devi dreamt of taking up taekwondo as a professional athlete. But a chanced encounter with the boxing legend the late Dingko Singh made her fall in love with boxing. And there wasn’t any looking back. In 1999, she featured in a few exhibition bouts at the National Games and was eventually part of the national camp. In 2001, she clinched a silver at the Asian Championships and followed it up with medals in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012 editions. In 2006, she won gold at the World Championships. After marrying Thoiba, the couple was blessed with a boy – Tomthil – in 2013 and overcoming the odds, Sarita returned to the ring in 2014 at the Commonwealth Games and in the controversy-ridden Asian Games, where she again took home a medal. Coming back from an one-year ban after the Asian Games, in 2017 and 2019 editions of the Asian Championships, she won bronze medals. She currently runs an academy at her village in Manipur.
Margaret Court – Tennis
Court is hailed as one of the tennis’ greatest players with 24 Grand Slam titles in singles and 64 in total to her name – most by any tennis player in history. She temporarily retired in 1966, but returned in 1968 and won all four Grand Slam single titles in 1970. The next year, she lost the Wimbledon finals while pregnant with Daniel, who was born in 1972. Court made a comeback the following year, winning the US Open and several Grand Slams, but she missed the 1974 season due to the birth of her second child, Marika. She started playing in November of that year and later won the mixed doubles in Wimbledon and women’s doubles at US Open in 1975. She missed most of 1976 due to the birth of her third child but returned to the court in early 1977. She eventually retired, permanently this time, later that year due to the birth of her fourth child. Her final Grand Slam appearance in singles was at the 1975 US Open, and she made her last Grand Slam appearance in the 1976 Australian Open.
Dipika Pallikal Karthik
One of the faces of Indian squash alongside Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappal, Pallikal-Karthik has been at the top of the game for over a decade now. She became the first Indian to break into the top 10 in the PSA Women’s rankings. She is also the first Indian squash player to win the Arjuna Award (in 2012), the second highest sporting award in the country. Pallikal-Karthik and Chinappa won India’s first Commonwealth gold medal in squash in the Glasgow edition in 2014. She also two silvers – in doubles and mixed doubles – to her name from the 2018 edition in the Gold Coast. All these besides memorable wins in the WIPSA World Tour including triumphs at the Tournament of Champions in January 2012, Macau Open in 2013 and Australian Open in 2016. Dipika was ranked inside the top 20 in the world when she decided to take a step back from the sport in 2018. She says, among other reasons, she wanted to start a family that year. Her twins were born in October 2021 and a few months later she was back to the squash court with featuring in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games being top priority. She returned on time for the Doubles World Championships where she won the mixed and women’s gold. This adds to her haul of a silver and two bronze medals from previous editions of the tournament in 2016 and 2017.
Amy Satterthwaite – Cricket
The New Zealand all-rounder made her international debut against Australia in July 2007. The following month, she took six wickets for 17 runs against England, becoming the first woman to do so in a women’s T20I match. Satterthwaite became the first woman to score four consecutive ODI centuries against Australia in 2017, equaling Kumar Sangakkara’s tally. She tied Lydia Greenway’s record of eight catches in a Women’s World Cup in 2017. A year later, she was named captain of the New Zealand squad for the 2018 T20 World Cup but her team did not advance to the knockout stages. Satterthwaite announced her pregnancy and retirement from the sport in 2019. Grace Marie Satterthwaite was born in 2020.
Soon after, she made a comeback into the White Ferns side and was named vice-captain of the side for the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2022, where she reached the 4500-run mark in ODI cricket.
Sania Mirza – Tennis
Sania Mirza, a former doubles world No 1, has six Grand Slams titles to her name. From 2003 till her retirement from singles in 2013, she was ranked as the India No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association. She was the only Indian woman to enter the top 100 singles rankings, the third Indian woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam round, and the first to reach the third round. Mirza has won 43 crowns and spent 91 weeks as the world No 1 in doubles. She added eight Asian Games and two Commonwealth medals to her kitty. In April 2018, she announced her pregnancy and gave birth to her son – Izhaan Mirza Malik. Two years after giving birth, she returned to the court and played alongside Nadiia Kichenok at the Hobart international in 2020 – a tournament she won. The team lost their 2020 Australia Open match as Mirza suffered an injury. Along with Ankita Rania, she played at the Tokyo Olympics, but lost to an Ukranian pair in the first round. In 2022, Mirza said she will retire at the end of the season.
Koneru Humpy – Chess
Once the youngest woman Grandmaster (a record later broken by Hou Yifan in 2008), Koneru won three gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship from 1997 to 2000 and the World Junior Girls championship in 2001. A child prodigy in the discipline, she was tied for first place the following year but finished second on tiebreak. She won the British Women’s Championship twice and the 10th Asian and Indian Chess Championship in 2003. She won the North Urals Cup in 2005, a tournament featuring ten of the erstwhile best female players. She won two gold medals in the individual and mixed team events at the 2006 Asian Games. In 2007, Koneru became the second female to surpass the 2600 Elo rating mark. Until 2017, she finished second in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in 2009-11, 2011-12, 2013-14, and 2015-16. She gave birth to Ahana in 2017. Soon after her maternity break, she returned to become women’s World Rapid champion in 2019 and was runners-up in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2019-21 edition. She is also part of the Indian contingent for the 2022 FIDE Chess Olympiad this year.
PT Usha – Athletics
Hailed as the queen of Indian track an field, PT Usha was one of the brightest stars in Indian athletics. She won multiple medals and set several national records during her active years. In 1982, she won two silver medals at the Asian Games and soon converted them into gold in the 1986 Asian Games by winning four golds and one silver. She had won six medals for India at the Asian Championships the previous year, including five golds and one bronze, and kept the streak going with medals in the 1987, 1988, and 1989 editions. She gave birth to Ujjwal Srinivasan in 1992 and came back in 1994 with a silver medal at the Asian Games in the 4x400m relay and four medals at the 1998 Asian Championship. She eventually announced her retirement in 2000 after an injury resurfaced.
Krishna Poonia – Athletics
An international gold medallist discus thrower and two-time Olympian, Krishna Poonia started competing in the sport from her school days. In 2001, In 2001 she gave birth to Lakshya Raj and was encouraged by her husband to take up the sport. Her moment of fame came when she won the bronze medal with a throw of 61.53m at the 2006 Asian Games. She later achieved the same feat in the 2010 edition, but managed to surpass all expectations with a gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games with a 61.5 m throw. She became the first Indian woman to win gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games, coming second to Milkha Singh won gold in men’s 440 yards race in the 1958 CWG. She qualified for the discus throw finals at the London Olympics in 2012, but only managed to finish sixth with a throw of 63.62m.
Alex Morgan- Football
World Cup winner Alex Morgan plays for San Diego Wave FC in the highest division for women’s football in the USA and is a vital cog in the United States women’s national team. Making her professional debut in 2011, Morgan was the youngest player at the age of 22 on the national team for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She scored the match-winning goal in the 2012 London Olympics semifinal match. USA eventually won gold. After the USWNT won its second Women’s World Cup title, with Morgan playing a vital role in both those campaigns, she decided to start a family, despite being in the prime of her career. She gave birth to Charlie Elena Carrasco in May 2020, and returned to the field in November to play a friendly against the Netherlands. She was a part of the US team that won bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and continues to play professionally and with the USWNT.
Nia Ali- Athletics
This American track and field athlete specializes in 100m hurdles and heptathlon to name a few. Ali was chosen as a US representative for the World University Games in 2011, where she won gold in the 100m hurdles in 12.85 seconds. After winning the 60m hurdles with a personal best of 7.93 at the 2013 USA Indoor Track and Field Championship, she repeated the feat the following year with a new PB of 7.80. With this, she qualified for the 2014 World Indoor Championships where she won gold in 7.80s. She gave birth to Titus Maximus in 2015 causing her to take a year off. She successfully defended her title at the 2016 World Indoor Championships. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, she won silver in the 100m hurdles. In June 2018, she gave birth to her daughter Yuri Zen and a year later won gold at the IAAF world championships for 100m hurdles with a personal best time of 12.34. She had another child in May 2021.
Victoria Azarenka- Tennis
This Belarusian tennis player and former world number one has won a total of 21 WTA singles titles, including two Grand Slam singles titles at the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013. With this she became the first Belarusian to win a Grand Slam singles title. Another notable achievement was her singles bronze medal and gold in the mixed doubles match at the 2012 London Olympics. Having finished at the top 10 in singles ranking for five consecutive years between 2009 and 2013, Azarenka decided to take a break due to an injury in 2014. Later in 2016, she gave birth to a boy, Leo. However, after a split with her partner in 2017, she was involved in a custody case of their son, causing her to withdraw from the remaining tournaments in 2017. In 2018, it was announced that Azarenka had won the custody battle hearing. She returned to the top 100 and entered the Wimbledon mixed doubles finals. She jumped rankings and moved to top 50 in 2019 as she made it to the US Open doubles finals partnering with Ash Barty. She won her first title since 2016 at the 2020 Western & Southern Open, as Naomi Oska withdrew, she also advanced to the finals of the US Open, where she lost to Osaka.
[Compiled by Netra V]