Mothers in sport: Serena Williams not alone in post-baby comeback

Torrey HartYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

Former Women’s Tennis Association No. 1 Serena Williams will play in her 11th Wimbledon semifinal Thursday, 10 months after giving birth to her first child, Olympia Ohanian. Williams has been very open about her struggles with pregnancy and returning to competitive form, due in part to her life-threatening postpartum blood clots.

After withdrawing from the Australian Open before play began in January, she eased back into to the sport at the U.S. Fed Cup in February, then played at Indian Wells, the Miami Open and the French Open before her current run at Wimbledon.

Since she returned as the No. 453-ranked player world-wide, Williams and many of her competitors have been outspoken about the need for an updated WTA maternity leave policy. Under the current rules, a player taking time off to have a baby is treated the same way as a player with a longterm injury: the player can use her former ranking to gain entry into eight events within a year of her return (two of which can be Grand Slams), but there is no guarantee of seeding.

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While Williams might be the highest-profile athlete to stage a successful comeback after giving birth, she’s certainly not the only woman to do it. Below, we’ve highlighted other athletes to achieve the feat.

Serena Williams is making a run the 2018 Wimbledon title less than a year after giving birth. (AP Photo)
Serena Williams is making a run the 2018 Wimbledon title less than a year after giving birth. (AP Photo)

Kim Clijsters

Serena Williams would not be the first mother to win a Grand Slam title. Kim Clijsters won one Slam prior to giving birth to a daughter in 2008, then three after becoming a mother when she won the 2009 U.S. Open. That made her the first woman to win a Slam post-birth since 1980.

Candace Parker (Basketball)

Parker, the first pick of the 2008 WNBA draft, was named both Rookie of the Year and MVP in her first season. She missed the first nine games of the 2009 season after giving birth to her first daughter during the prior offseason. However, despite missing almost a full month, Parker was named to the All-WNBA second team and All-Defensive second team. She was sidelined for most of the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, but returned as an All-Star in 2011. By 2013, she was winning her second MVP award, becoming just the fifth player ever to earn the honor multiple times. She went on to win Finals MVP in 2016, garner numerous additional All-Star selections, and is currently in the middle of the multi-year deal with the Sparks. 

Joy Fawcett (Soccer)

She represented the U.S. three times in the Olympics and was deemed the “original soccer mom” when in 1994 she became the first woman to give birth in-season. Amazingly, she only missed three weeks of play. Her career lasted 10 more year after having her first child. During her tenure with the San Diego Spirit, Fawcett gave birth to a third child in 2001 and returned to the pitch only six weeks later.

Dana Vollmer (Swimming)

Vollmer, a multi-time Olympic medalist and former world record holder in swimming, had her first child in March 2015. In June 2016, she qualified for her third Olympic team. She would win bronze in the 100 butterfly in Rio, silver in the 4×100 freestyle relay, and gold in the 4×100 medley relay. Vollmer, 30, had her second child last summer, and competed at the Indianapolis stop of the 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series while 6 months pregnant.

Kristin Armstrong (Cycling)

Armstrong, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in cycling, announced after the 2009 World Championships that she would temporarily step away from the sport to start a family. She had her first child in September 2010, and returned in April 2011 with a win at the Sea Otter Classic. She qualified for the 2012 Olympics, where she won the individual time trial title. With that race, at age 38, she became the oldest rider to win an Olympic time trial. However, she would once again defend that title in 2016, at 42, and become the first female American athlete to three-peat in an Olympic event.

Kerri Walsh Jennings (Beach Volleyball)

Walsh Jennings was already an Olympic champion in beach volleyball two times over when she had her first child in May 2009, and then her second just a year later. She returned to the international scene in 2011, reuniting with long-time partner Misty May-Treanor. The two went on to twin their third Olympic title in 2012 – during which Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnant with her third child, born in April 2013. She teamed up with April Ross to make a run at a fourth Olympic championship in 2016, but the pair lost in the semifinals.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1105885/" data-ylk="slk:Kerri Walsh Jennings">Kerri Walsh Jennings</a> celebrates with her boys Joey and Sundance after winning the women’s gold medal beach volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (AP)
Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrates with her boys Joey and Sundance after winning the women’s gold medal beach volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (AP)

Kara Goucher (Marathon)

Goucher, one of the most decorated U.S. marathoners of all-time, had her first child in September 2010, and took the following season off of competition. She returned to to the sport with a second-place finish in the January 2001 Arizona Half Marathon, then in March was third at the New York City Half Marathon. She was fifth in the 2011 Boston Marathon, then was the 10,000m runner-up at the 2011 U.S. Track and Field Outdoor Championships. She went on to run to a 13th-place finish at the 2011 World Championships. In January 2012, Goucher qualified for the London Olympics where she would eventually place 11th. She continued to run marathons, and placed fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.

Dara Torres (Swimming)

Torres is unique in that she made multiple swimming comebacks. Her first was in 1999, after she was already an Olympian three times over and had retired in 1992; she would win five medals at the 2000 Olympics. The second was in August 2007, 16 months after having her first child, when Torres won the U.S. National Championship in the 100 freestyle, and days later won the 50 free in American record fashion – breaking her own record, set eight years earlier. In 2008, she qualified for her fifth Olympic team at the age of 41, making her the oldest U.S. Olympic swimmer in history and the first American swimmer to appear in five Olympic Games. She went on to win a silver medal in the 50 freestyle and the 4×100 freestyle relay. 

Nia Ali (Track)

After winning gold in the 60m hurdles at the 2014 World Indoor Championships, Ali took a year off to have her first child. She successfully defended her title at the 2016 World Indoor Championships, and carried her son on the victory lap. She qualified for the Rio Olympics in July 2016, where she went on to win silver as part of the U.S.’s sweep of the 100m hurdles – the first Olympic sweep ever completed by American women.

Nia Ali of the United States celebrates with her son Titus after winning the silver medal in the Women’s 100m Hurdles at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Getty)
Nia Ali of the United States celebrates with her son Titus after winning the silver medal in the Women’s 100m Hurdles at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Getty)

Victoria Azarenka (Tennis)

Azarenka – a former world No. 1 tennis player – was forced to withdraw with injury from both the French Open and Wimbledon in 2016. While rehabbing in July, she announced that was pregnant and would miss the rest of the year, giving birth in December 2016. She returned in June 2017 at the Mallorca Open, and lost in the second round. At Wimbledon that year she made it to the fourth round, eventually losing to current world No. 1 Simona Halep, but then missed the U.S. Open, Fed Cup, and Australian Open due to a custody battle over her then eight-month-old. Since returning to competition in March 2018, she has once again cracked the world top 100.

Jessica Ennis-Hill (Track and Field)

Ennis-Hill, the 2012 Olympic heptathlon gold medalist, missed much of the 2013 season due to injury. She would then miss 2014 due to pregnancy, giving birth to her first child in July. In May 2015, she staged a comeback at the Great City Games in Manchester, and later qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. In August 2015, she won her third world title at the Beijing World Athletics Championships. Ennis-Hill missed the 2016 indoor season with an achilles injury, making her 2016 debut in May. At the Olympics in August, she won silver, and was nominated for the Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year for the second time in her career (she had previously come back from injury in 2009). She retired in October 2016.

Paula Radcliffe (Marathon)

After winning the women’s marathon gold medal at the August 2005 World Championships, Radcliffe announced she would take a break due to injury, and then subsequently announced she was pregnant, giving birth in early 2007. Though she couldn’t make her World Championship comeback in 2007 due to a lower back stress fracture, Radcliffe was adamant that she would attempt to make the next two Olympics. A series of bone injuries kept her from qualifying for Beijing, but she won the November 2008 New York Marathon. Another onslaught of injury and illness kept her out of the 2009 London Marathon and World Championships, but she won the New York City Half Marathon that year; she ended up fourth in her 2009 attempt at a three-peat in the full marathon. After giving birth to her second child in 2010, she qualified for the 2012 Olympics but had to pull out due to more injury. She competed in the 2015 London Marathon as the official last race of her career.

Christie Pearce (Soccer)

Pearce played soccer for the U.S. in the 1999 and 2003 World Cup finals as well as the 2000 and 2004 Olympics before having her first child in 2005. She played in the 2006 Four Nations Tournament in China less than four months after giving birth, then started all 20 games she competed in in 2007, including six games with the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup team. After winning Olympic gold in 2008 as captain of the U.S. women’s team, she had her second child in March 2010. She again served as captain for the 2011 World Cup, during which she played every minute of her team’s six games en route to a second-place finish. Her final Olympic gold came as captain, again, of the 2012 Olympic team, and in 2015 she became the oldest woman to play in a World Cup final.

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