A few days ago, my editor sent me an e-mail about 37-year-old golfer extraordinaire Annika Sorenstam’s decision to step down from the world of professional golf.
Sorenstam -- the third all-time winningest female golfer with 72 victories and $22 million in winnings since she started playing professionally in 1994 -- was, in her words, “stepping away from competition.” Among the reasons Sorenstam gave for her departure was that she wanted to start a family with her soon-to-be husband. She maintained that if she couldn’t give golf 100 percent attention, “then I don’t want to give any. So it’s either on or it’s not.”
In her e-mail to me, my editor noted: “Tiger didn’t have to retire [to have a family]. Interesting.” Interesting indeed. Tiger Woods, 32, became a father last year and simply continued playing golf after he became a dad without missing a beat (although he’s currently recuperating from knee surgery). Intrigued, I started looking up news stories on Sorenstam and other female professional athletes who’d made a variety of lifestyle choices. Here’s what I found:
I found a Denver Post column, a Mother’s Day piece, in which writer Woody Paige named several female professional athletes who have children and continued competing at the highest levels of their sport after becoming mothers. Paige referenced a Canadian pro golfer who played in an L.P.G.A. tournament while six months pregnant. A professional soccer player – who’d been a part of several World Cup competitions and was on a couple of Olympic teams – had three children during her competitive years. A world class marathoner won the New York City Marathon less than a year after giving birth.
I stumbled upon a golfing blog which, in 2007, profiled several prominent female golfers who had to literally shorten their putters when their growing bellies started interfering with their swing. At the time of the blog entry, three L.P.G.A. players were pregnant. Perusing through the official L.P.G.A. web site, I found an article entitled, “Moms on Tour,” where several professional golfing mothers – some with very young children – fielded questions about balancing sports and motherhood. One golfer, Kristi Albers said she believed she could be pregnant and still play on the Tour. Meanwhile golfer Juli Inkster said: “I thought I could do both. I didn’t really know what to expect but I thought it shouldn’t be that hard. Boy was I wrong. Playing golf and having a child was the hardest thing I’ve ever done . . . It took me a year or two to really settle in with what I was doing.”
Aside from trudging around a golf course in the heat and trying to accurately hit a teeny, tiny white ball when you’re gestating and can no longer see your feet, golf isn’t exactly a tough, contact sport. What happens to women who want to have families when they play a rougher sport like basketball? So I looked up working mom pro basketball players and read about Lisa Leslie, multiple-time WNBA MVP, who, at the age of 34, took off the 2007 season to have a baby but plans to be a member of the U.S. Olympic team this year. Veteran hoop star Sheryl Swoopes, another MVP, had a baby and started her basketball season six weeks after having giving birth. In fact, at one point, there were over a dozen working mom members of the WNBA.
“Wait a sec, what about Mia Hamm?” I thought, remembering soccer phenom
Then I learned that the 36-year-old captain of the current
I looked over all the news stories, the varied tales of accomplished women athletes, and came to this obvious conclusion: Female professional athletes are no different than female professionals in other lines of work. Some believe that they can simultaneously have babies and forge ahead with their careers. Others believe that it works better for them to take a time-out on their careers post-partum. Some scale back and do a little of both.
If a woman athlete wants to give birth to a baby, it’s her body that takes the hit. And when women are in physically demanding professions, the decision to have a baby has a substantial impact on their jobs, more so than on non-physical careers like, say, accounting. Whatever choices female athletes may make about work and family issues, they reflect individual and familial decisions, just like the ones we mere mortals make about our jobs and family . . . except they probably look better in spandex than we do.