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Home / Global Sport Institute News / 3 Athletes Who Got Better with Motherhood

3 Athletes Who Got Better with Motherhood

As Mother’s Day approaches, we celebrate the success stories of three prominent professional athletes in their respective domestic and international sport careers post motherhood.
May 9, 2019

1. Serena Williams

One of many photos of Serena with one year old daughter, Alexis Olympia, on her personal instagram where the first line in her “bio,” under her blue-checked and verified name is “I’m Olympia’s mom.”

At age 36, before welcoming home baby girl Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. with husband Alexis Ohanian (cofounder of the social news website Reddit), the tennis icon dedicated decades to perfecting her killer serve and becoming the world’s most dominant women’s tennis player of all time.

Serena earned her “greatest of all time” label while 8 weeks pregnant, when she broke Steffi Graf’s record of 22 all time Grand Slam in the single championship category with her 23rd title victory over sister, Venus, at the 2017 Australian Open. The star is also known for the “Serena Slam” of 2002–2003 where she won back-to-back opens in the order of: the French Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open.

It’s significant to note that among most professional sports the average retirement age is 33. With that figure in mind, female athletes could only dream to near that level of caliber Serena achieved prior to pregnancy if not in their careers as a whole. With the amount of titles to her name and surpassing the average median retirement age by two years, it’s fair to inquire why she might not just retire and reap the rewards of her tireless training and work?

But this was never the case, there was never a sign of the four time Olympic gold medalist slowing down anytime soon. In fact, just shortly after giving birth in September, Serena was back winning on the court earning a straight-set victory WTA match (7–5, 6–3) against Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas in March 2018. A week following her win in Miami, she announced a business venture outside of the sport, “Aneres” — the rumored cosmetic line whose name is Serena spelled backwards.

In addition to the highly anticipated cosmetic line, the now multimillion-dollar tennis icon has continued to add to her resume with: a fashion line that was initially launched and sold on HSN in 2004, her own own Venture Capitalist Firm, Serena Ventures, a five-part HBO series “Being Serena,” and numerous endorsement deals outside of Nike (e.g., JP Morgan Chase, Intel, Gatorade, Beats by Dre, and Lincoln).

2. Kerri Walsh Jennings

Walsh Jennings matching with her only other immediate female family member, 6 year old daughter, Scout Margery.

Walsh Jennings’ first Olympics were the 2000 Summer Sydney games, where she competed with the U.S. indoor Volleyball team as a single 22 year old. Five years later she married Casey Jennings, fellow American pro beach-volleyball star. As part of the triumphant duo, with Misty May-Treanor by her side, the pair went on to winning two Olympic gold medals, their first at the Athens 2004 summer games, followed by their second at the Beijing 2008 summer games. Shortly after their 2008 gold victory, in 2009 the nicknamed “Six feet of Sunshine” athlete welcomed home her first of four children, son Joey. A year later she gave birth a second time to son, Sundance.

While pregnant for a third time — this time with girl, later named Scout Margery when born in April 2013 — the then mom of two won gold at the London 2012 Olympic summer games, again as part of the Misty May legendary duo. Paired with the joy of extending her family with the birth of another bundle of joy, came despair for Walsh Jennings’ when she learned of long-time primary partner (since 2001) Misty May-Treanor’s announcement of retirement following their third Olympic win as a duo.

As if Walsh Jennings wasn’t busy enough with her rapidly growing family, she was now faced with finding a new wining teammate. She eventually partnered with American Olympic silver medalist, April Ross, and despite Walsh Jennings’ shoulder injury — most notably identified with KT black tape — the duo ranked no. 3 in the world after winning the Bronze at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro summer Olympic games. The bronze medal win was Walsh Jennings’ fourth Olympic medal, making her the most decorated beach-volleyball athlete, male or female, in all Olympic history.

In 2017, shortly after the new winning duo had formed, their partnerships ended. Walsh Jennings left April Ross to resign with AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) and form a short-lived partnership with Nicole Branagh, sighting disagreements with the organization. In 2018 Walsh Jennings announced a new competitive team with reigning four time AVP defensive player of the year, Brooke Sweat. Be on the lookout for Walsh Jennings’ family of five, complete with three kids and husband Casey, as they cheer her on in the summer Olympic qualifiers while on her journey to the next summer games: #Tokyo2020 Olympics.

3. Candace Parker

Candace the “cool mom!” The mother-daughter duo snap a photo together with San Francisco Golden State Warriors superstar, Stephen Curry, court-side after watching him play in Oakland.

A truly versatile women’s basketball player at all levels, having won state level championships and earning “player of the year” titles since her high school career, Candace Parker has gone on to prove she can balance doubling as a professional athlete and a working mom.

After redshirting in her first college year due to a knee injury, she went on to break barriers playing three positions at the University of Tennessee— forward, center, and guard—where she led the Lady Vols to two consecutive national championships and became the first woman to dunk in the NCAA tournament in 2006. Shortly after her stream of NCAA victories, she was selected as the first pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks; earning both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player and continuing to make both her immediate basketball family unit (sister of former NBA Player, Anthony Parker) and extended family unit, University of Tennessee Vols fans, proud.

2008 was a year of both professional and personal success for Parker. In addition to earning all the above WNBA awards and accolades, that year she married fellow Duke University basketball star, Sheldon Williams, who later went on to play in the professional league as well. Together, the couple had a child they named Lailaa, the following year. In a 2009 New York Times article, Parker was looking forward to the challenge of balancing both basketball and family, with motherhood and family her top priority, and was quoted in the interview as follows:

“My whole career has been trying to please people in basketball,” Parker, a 22-year-old newlywed, said Friday in a telephone interview. “Now it’s time to please myself.” She added, “For me, family has always come first.” — via The New York Times

The basketball couple divorced in 2016, after 8 years of marriage but have remained amicable with mutually exclusive custody of their now 10 year-old daughter.

Along with a wildly successful collegiate career and ongoing professional career in the states with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker has competed as part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold winning USA Basketball Women’s national teams and has played in both the Russian and Turkish international professional leagues during WNBA off-seasons.

She is as affluent in her off-court pursuits as she is on. In addition to playing with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker can be most recently seen as one of many professional female athletes as part of Adidas’ She Breaks Barriers campaign, a commitment to helping female athletes break down barriers to sport. She also routinely serves as a studio analyst for CBS Sports NCAA Men’s Tournament coverage and on NBA on TNT. In all her pursuits, Parker is sure to put her family life first — as seen in her instagram — Lailaa is quite often spotted with her court-side and looks to be training to be the next female basketball star herself, just like mom!

Honorary Mention:

Beyoncé

Beyoncé posted three photos teasing her new Adidas partnership; above is the first of three.

Although not a star in the sense of being a professional athlete, Beyoncé, mother of three and wife of hip-hop legend Jay-Z, is dubbed by society and fans as the biggest star and “Queen Bee” of the equally grueling and competitive, music industry. After cutting ties with Topshop, the ‘Let me Upgrade you star,’ is the newest celebrity ambassador to the multinational European lifestyle and sports apparel manufacturer, Adidas.

With Adidas as “creative partner,” the musical superstar plans to expand her empire with the relaunch of Ivy Park, adding developments to new footwear and apparel for the brand. The new product line is rumored to include both lifestyle and performance items that focus on “meaningful and rich storytelling.”

The multi-layered partnership was made public via their own official instagram on April 4th and confirmed with back-to-back posts from the legendary pop-star herself via her personal instagram account (one of the three posts pictured above) two-three weeks later.

ASU’s Global Sport Institute, philanthropically partnered with Adidas, wishes to share the stories above to serve as inspiration to all the hard-working, multitasking, balancing Moms (both professional and non-professional athletes) a very happy & healthy #MothersDay2019. We salute you.