Getting to the Olympics is no small feat. Even if you don’t medal, I’d wager it’s roughly the equivalent of achieving a C-level job at a Fortune 500 company in terms of preparation, luck and timing. Adding to the difficulty level? Women’s athletics in particular don’t feature the big bucks of corporate careers. And sports feature a lot more physical strain than sitting at a desk and chairing meetings.
So just as I’m excited to see other glass ceilings shattered, I’m excited to see the number of female competitors who are moms of young kids. Kara Goucher, who finished 11th in the Olympic marathon, had a baby not long ago. Kerri Walsh Jennings, the volleyball player, had two sons between the 2008 Olympics and this one. An Olympic highlight for me was hearing Lashinda Demus’s twin boys yell “Go mommy!” as she raced in the semi-finals of the 400 meter hurdles. And there are many more.
Many competitive athlete moms don’t take much time off from training after giving birth. Some do — Demus was out for a while before fighting back — but many don’t. Paula Radcliffe famously won the New York City Marathon in November of 2007 after giving birth in January. Moms who compete in professional leagues travel a lot.
I’ve been thinking of the choices these mothers make in light of the clucking heaped upon Marissa Mayer last month for her announcement, upon becoming CEO of Yahoo, that she wouldn’t take much of a maternity leave. Many of the posts featured a “just you wait” sort of knowingness. I thought I was ambitious until I had my first child … You won’t want to outsource taking care of the person who’s most important to you (as if using childcare means you never take care of your children). Just you wait! You’ll be too tired to do anything, and think that putting your hair up in a ponytail is getting decked out.
Yet here are these Olympic moms, doing tempo runs while in the newborn phase, having relatives and other caregivers watch their children while they train, and yet seemingly raising healthy, happy children and excelling at careers they love. It turns out that women can revel in multiple roles. Just because no man has given birth and won a major marathon in the same calendar year, or given birth and come back to win a gold medal, doesn’t mean no woman can. The world is changing in ways that make it very exciting to be building a family and building a career, using all one’s talents — with fewer compromises than people caught in a mindset of limitation choose to see.
In other news: Acculturated.com, a blog about the virtues and vices of pop culture, has a daily round-up of interesting pop culture news that reflects on who we are as a society. Or at least what we find entertaining.