See Mommy Run

More and more, elite female athletes are taking on a challenge greater than sports. They're returning to the competitive world of sports while juggling motherhood.

Soccer moms have led the charge. The U.S. Women's National Team has consistently featured mothers on its roster since 1994, when Joy Fawcett became the first "Soccer Mom" to give birth and continue playing at the highest levels of international soccer. Carla Overbeck and Danielle Fotopoulos also had kids while on the U.S. team, and more recently, three moms have played for the USA in defenders Kate Markgraf (mother of Keegan), Christie Rampone (mother of Riley) and Tina Frimpong (mother of MacKenzie).

Though retired from competitive play, Mia Hamm joined the Soccer Moms Club when she and husband Dodgers player Nomar Garciaparra welcomed twin daughters last March. Two years ago, Brandi Chastain became mom to little Connor and earlier last year Julie Foudy, former captain of the US Women's soccer team, had a baby girl named Isabel. Former captain Kristine Lilly is sitting out this year's Olympic games because she's about to become a mom.

Obviously, competitive women aren't waiting until their athletic careers are over to start families. And while the physical and emotional challenges of motherhood can be difficult, most athlete moms wouldn't have it any other way.

WNBA player Lisa Leslie sat out last season with the Los Angeles Sparks to give birth to a daughter but she signed a multiyear deal to return to the pro team next season. Pitcher Jennie Finch had a son named Ace with husband Casey Daigle and is planning to compete with the Women's National Softball Team in Beijing this summer.

When the U.S. women's hockey team beat Finland to win the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, forward Jenny Potter skated around the rink in celebration with her 5-year-old daughter Madison in her arms. Potter's daughter was a fixture at the rink at an early age. A week after Madison was born in January 2001, Jenny was skating again. Three months later, she was back playing for the U.S. women's hockey team in the world championships.

What's even more impressive is that Jenny did it all again last year. Just 83 days after having her second child, Potter helped the 2007 U.S. Women's National Team to a 9-0 victory over Kazakhstan in the opening game of the 2007 IIIHF Women's World Championship.

Tennis player Lindsay Davenport has had an amazing comeback since giving birth to her son Jagger last year. Just three months after the birth of her first child, Davenport became an instant and almost shocking success winning a number of high profile tournaments.

Other images from the world of women's sports clearly show the tide has turned. Legendary Czech cross county skier Katerina Neumannova collapsed on her knees at the finish line after winning gold in the 30-kilometre race at the 2006 Turin Olympics, her poles askew as she hugged her two-year-old daughter, Lucie.

Former Ironman world champion Lori Bowden placed second at Ironman Austria, just 10 months after giving birth to her son Tyson. And pro cyclist Sue Palmar-Komar, a 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medallist,  at age 41, had a sibling for her seven-year-old daughter Trinity. And who can forget long distance runner Paula Radcliffe who won the New York Marathon months after giving birth to daugher Isla.

Most of these working moms admit they can't do it alone. And while their spouses and families pitch in, they are also assisted by their leagues and teams. Potter said USA Hockey provides helpful financial assistance during Olympic years. And before the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded, the league mandated that home teams must provide child care for the mothers on visiting teams.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) takes things to a whole new level. Since 1993, the LPGA has operated the LPGA Child Development Center, which travels to more than 25 tournaments per year. Bardine May, the Center's director, said the LPGA was motivated to provide child care so that its athletes didn't have to choose between playing the game and having a family.

There are many different kinds of mothers in this world. There are professionals and homemakers. Some are fashionable, some conservative, some are modern and some are cool. Fortunately some are competitive athletes as well.

Run Mommy Run.

Originally posted at prettytough.com

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