Alysia Montaño has won the 800-meter race at the USA Outdoor Track Championships six times, and she represented her country in the 2012 Olympics, but it was a race in which she finished last that made her famous: the 800 at the 2014 USA Nationals, which she ran while eight months pregnant with the first of her three children.
Becoming known as the “pregnant runner” was only the first step in Montaño’s fight for women—athletes in particular—who are forced to choose between family and career. On Mother’s Day 2019, she published an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Nike Told Me to Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted a Baby,” which went viral for highlighting the lack of sponsorship support from major corporations for female athletes who also want to become mothers. Later that year, she asked scientist and researcher (and mother of two) Molly Dickens to help her cofound a nonprofit that would enable “mothers to become the driving force breaking down a system that has historically dismissed, undervalued, and discriminated against them, starting with professional athletics.” That organization was announced on Mother’s Day last year. It’s now backing a trio of hopefuls for the Tokyo Games this summer, and it counts nine-time Olympic medalist (and mother of one) Allyson Felix among its board members.
On the birth of &Mother
“Once we put out the New York Times op-ed, I had an outpouring of support and questions like, ‘How do I help make a big splash for this cause?’ I said, ‘We could say how wrong this is until we are blue in the face, but who are we looking toward to help us make the changes we need?’ I realized we gotta roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves. We need a non-profit that can pull together and accrue resources, so when people ask how, what, when, where, why, they can say, ‘&Mother is showing us the way.’”
On finding sponsors
“Our founding partner, Cadenshae, started their line because there was a hole in the maternity sportswear industry, in pregnancy and postpartum, in terms of fitness. They are on board with accruing a budget to help our three core athletes we’re supporting for the 2021 Olympics. And Altra Running put together a virtual race fundraiser for the Mother’s Day anniversary of &Mother. I was adamant: ‘I need you guys to know this organization is going to be a very, very prominent force that I am fighting for.’”
On &Mother’s athletes
“I connected with [runner] Sara Vaughn early on, because I had watched her for a long time. She had her first child when she was in college, and lost support. Then, hearing Dawn Harper-Nelson say, ‘I felt like I had to retire,’ [even though] she was a gold and silver medalist in the hurdles. She knew if she became pregnant, she wouldn’t get support. And [runner] Olicia Williams was coming out of college when she was pregnant with her daughter. She said, ‘Companies weren’t seeing me as a professional because I have a daughter.’ Man, when I tell you I feel rage…”
On the future
“I believe that if I don’t do this, no one else will. It is far beyond seeing how fast I can run. We need to break down these barriers. We need to empower women. I hope &Mother will be the starting point for an entire societal shift. Our hope is that we can push forward and show the value of a woman knowing she can choose to pursue her career and thrive in that and in motherhood.”
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