Women have been hard at work for decades dispelling the myth that they aren’t as good at sports as men. And now there is a core group of top women athletes proving that women can be both top athletes and moms at the same time. So how did we choose Working Mother’s Most Powerful Moms: Athletes? First, they must be a major athletic force—the women on this list have won Olympic Gold medals, World Championships and countless other titles. We also tried to spotlight women in a wide range of sports, from skeleton racing to basketball to golf. The women we have chosen represent the top of their respective sports.
Motherhood need not mean the end of an athletic career. Many of the women on this list have risen to the top of their game after giving birth. Tennis player Kim Clijsters was the number one ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association in 2011—famously holding up her toddler daughter and a Grand Slam trophy at the same time. Clijsters is only the second woman in history to win three Grand Slams as a mom. Swimmer Dara Torres won three Olympic silver medals in the Beijing games after giving birth to her daughter, Tessa Grace, proving you really can do it all.
Like Torres, a number of women on this list have chosen to take sabbaticals from their sport to focus on their family, only to return to competition as strong as ever. Olympic gold medalist in cycling Kristin Armstrong took a three-year leave from the sport after taking the gold in 2008. Now she's returned to training, with an eye on the Olympics. Noelle Pikus-Pace, an Olympic skeleton racer, took off time to raise her daughter, Lacee, missing the Turin Olympic games in 2006 but returning in Vancouver in 2010.
For many of these mom athletes, work life balance means bringing their children to practices and games. Jenny Potter, an Olympic gold medalist in ice hockey, says her oldest daughter, Madison, has been attending her games since she was a baby. Soccer star Christie Rampone brought her oldest daughter to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. And WNBA player Candace Parker says her daughter, 2-year-old Lailaa, is a constant sideline companion: "Lailaa is along for the ride, with me on trips, at the court. You don't hear about male players doing that, do you? Women, we just have to balance more things.”
In many ways the sports world has become increasingly friendly to working mothers in recent years. The LPGA, for instance, became the first in professional sports to offer a free traveling day-care center when it debuted the Smuckers Child Development Center in 1993. Currently there are 32 moms on the tour. The WNBA also has a reputation for being supportive of the moms in its ranks. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the WNBA and its players, an athlete who becomes pregnant is paid 50 percent of her salary, either for the length of time she is out or until the end of her contract. No set limit exists for maternity leave.