American middle-distance runner Alyssia Montaño is well-known in the track and field world for competing at the U.S. National Championships while pregnant in both 2014 and 2017. Along with other prominent athletes, She has also openly criticized companies like Nike and Asics for their discriminatory pregnancy clauses in elite contracts. Since then, Montaño has started her own nonprofit, &Mother, which supports elite female athletes who are also moms. This year, the organization is supporting three elite athletes, including Dawn Harper-Nelson, Sara Vaughn and Olicia Williams as they train for the U.S. Olympic Trials. We spoke with all three women to find out what it’s like being both a mother and an elite athlete, and how the support from &Mother is helping them as they work toward their goals.
Before becoming a mother, Harper-Nelson, who won gold and silver medals in the 100m hurdles at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, says she was very strict with her training. She knew what it was going to take to be an Olympic champion, and she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her training. Since giving birth to her daughter in 2019, she says she has learned that she is capable of a lot more than she thought.
“I can handle more than one goal and dream of mine,” she explains, “and being an Olympic Champion and a mom were both dreams of mine.”
&Mother was founded for that exact purpose — to support women who want to be mothers, but who also want to continue pursuing their other goals. Harper-Nelson explains that before discriminatory pregnancy clauses in elite contracts were brought to light, it was expected that when a female athlete became pregnant, the sport was just going to move on without her, and her career would be over.
“I didn’t think that I had the leeway, the forgiveness or the opportunity to be a mom and do the sport that I love,” she says.
Vaughn’s story is a bit different. She had her first child in college, so the 1,500m runner has been a mother for her entire professional career. Because of this, she never received much in the way of sponsorships, so she has held down a full-time job the entire time as well. &Mother supports her by offering financial assistance to cover the costs of childcare so she can devote more time to training, which Vaughn says aligns with their goal of removing barriers for women to be both professional athletes and mothers.
“It removes a lot of the guilt of tapping into the family budget to pay for childcare because of this expensive hobby I have,” she says.
Williams also became a mother fairly early in her career, and gave birth to her baby when she was still a collegiate runner. Initially, this made the NCAA All-American uncertain whether she’d be able to continue her athletic career.
“My sight for track and field was kind of blurry,” she says. “I didn’t know if I could go back to running.”
Williams says she used to hide the fact that she was a mom because she was worried about how brands would react. Now with the help from &Mother and their partnership with the athletic apparel brand Cadenshae, along with a strong support system from her family and coaches, Williams says training is just as good as it was before becoming a mom. She adds that as more women have spoken up against pregnancy clauses in contracts, women are proving that you don’t have to give up on your goals when you become a mother.
“You can do things while being a mother,” she says. “It’s not a setback, it’s a bonus.”
&Mother says that women should have the right to become a mother if they choose, and deciding to be a mom shouldn’t erase everything that makes up who they are as women and athletes. You have that “and mother” attached to you, and you can continue to do whatever you did before motherhood. With the financial and emotional support from &Mother, Harper-Nelson, Vaughn and Williams all have their eyes on the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials, and every day these women are proving that when you support the entire athlete — the runner and the mom — you create an environment in which everyone can succeed.