5 Winter Olympians & Paralympians Who Are Mothers Competing In PyeongChang 2018
Being an Olympian and a mother is a very rare combination; the entire U.S. team sent to Rio in 2016 had 554 athletes, but only 10 of them were mothers, according to the official Team USA site. And the pool of athlete moms for PyeongChang's Winter 2018 Olympics (starting Feb. 8) and Paralympics (starting Mar. 8) is even smaller, mostly because the teams sent are much smaller than the ones that compete in Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Some of the most famous mothers from previous winter Olympics and Paralympics have also retired; the "fastest mom on skis," American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, bowed out after Sochi, and head of Canada's champion curling team, Jennifer Jones, who gave birth to a daughter in 2012, will not be heading to PyeongChang. But there will still be a small number of women fighting for gold — with their kids cheering them on.
Being a mother and an elite athlete is no small feat. Many women at elite levels are expected to retire once they have children, both because of expectations that they'll be taking on childcare and because of the health difficulties of childbirth; Serena Williams, who recently had to drop out of contention for the Australian Open because of extended recovery from the birth of her first child Alexis Olympia in 2017, is an example. Williams, however, is training to be number one in tennis again, and these five moms headed to PyeongChang are further proof that moms can, indeed, do anything.
Kikkan Randall is thought to be the only mother competing on the 2018 Winter Olympic team for the U.S., and she's a big deal; this will be her fifth Olympics as a competitor in cross-country skiing, one of only a small handful of athletes to reach that number, and she's won the World Cup in her sport three times. Randall gave birth to a son in 2016 and has been a vocal advocate ever since for better conditions at elite athletic events for mothers, including daycares and breastfeeding rooms. Whether PyeongChang lives up to her expectations will be interesting to see.
After first qualifying to compete for the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Schleper is now entering as one of three athletes competing under the Mexican flag at the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang, on the back of a largely self-funded training and travel campaign. Schleper, who has a son with her husband, who is from Mexico, is an alpine skier whose journey to get to South Korea represents a lot of hardscrabble work.
The phenomenal skill involved in being a U.S. Paralympian is one thing, but Danelle Umstead is a legend in her own right for her dominance of her Paralympic sport, para alpine skiing. Umstead, who has been blind since the age of 13 and is guided by her husband Rob as a team known as Vision4Gold, has been near the top of the world tables multiple times, and their partnership has won three bronze Paralympic medals. They also have a son together. NBC labelled her one of the athletes to watch at PyeongChang in March.
Marie Martinod is a French freestyle half-pipe skier whose path to PyeongChang has been slightly unconventional. After quitting skiing at 22 to start a family in France, she entered the sport again in 2011 after a five-year hiatus when half-pipe skiing became an official Olympic event. She earned a silver at Sochi, and is now going into PyeongChang's Winter Olympics as the favorite for gold in her event, after winning the X Games in 2017.
Norwegian skiier Marit Bjoergen should be on your radar not just for the fact that she welcomed a baby boy in 2015, but because she may come out of PyeongChang in 2018 as the most successful female Winter Olympian of all time. Bjoergen has utterly dominated her sport, cross-country skiing, for decades, and currently holds the equal record for most medals won by a female Winter Olympian with 10 (and three golds alone at Sochi). If she medals at Pyeongchang, she'll blast past that — and may even beat the record for most Winter Olympic medals of all time, which is currently held by fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, at 13. Bjoergen, though, isn't taking any chances; she revealed in an interview in early 2018 that she's rearranging her childcare before February to make sure that she doesn't catch any illnesses from other kids in daycare.
Focusing on the private lives of female athletes is arguably not as exciting as their amazing athletic accomplishments, but considering the societal pressures created by motherhood, the exceptional achievements of every woman who's given birth to a child and competed in Olympics ought to be enough to make you burst with pride.