My wife and I used to have this awesome part-time gig in the summer filming U.S. Track and Field championships for protest and review purposes. The best part — besides free passes to the University of Oregon dining hall — were the front row seats at some of the most competitive track meets in the world.
At the 2014 IAAF World Junior championships at Hayward Field, I was filming from a VIP deck at the 1500-meter start. Matt Centrowitz was rubbing my left shoulder, Carl Lewis stood directly behind me, and Sir Sebastian Coe crowded my camera’s all-important view of the backstretch. Realizing I owned fewer pairs of socks than this assemblance of running royalty’s cumulative Olympic gold medal collection, I refrained from asking anyone to move back from the railing. Instead, I proceeded to zoom in on Sir Coe’s left shoulder as athletes whizzed by. Fortunately, there were no fouls.
Of the memories like that and hundreds of races I filmed over a six-year stretch, one stands out above them all.
On a warm day in Sacramento, California, I witnessed then four-time defending national champion Alysia Montano run 2:32.13 seconds — 35 seconds slower than her personal best — in the opening heat of the 800-meter run at the 2014 U.S. outdoor championships.
She was 34-weeks pregnant.
Trailing by 120 meters, she received standing ovations on both laps.
My thought at the time was whether or not I would have been able to beat Montano if someone had forced me to drop my camcorder and hop on the track right there. 5:04 mile pace isn’t exactly jogging.
I remember the event differently now, especially with my own wife retiring from her special education teaching career to raise our daughter full-time. In my mind, both are super moms who sacrificed something for their primary passion.
Montano elected to give up her national title winning streak (and, at 28, a prime year in her distinguished career) to have children. It is common for female track and field stars to struggle starting a family because of the financial fallout from selfish sponsors demanding a constant stream of results. Sanya Richards Ross won a 2008 Olympic gold medal just weeks after having an abortion, a decision she struggled with mightily and confessed as being prevalent within the track and field community. More recently, Allyson Felix has become a warrior for moms, advocating brands to support women at each stage of their careers.
Montano’s decision to raise three kids was brave on many levels. She returned in 2015 to win gold in the event and in 2017, she ran 2:21 at the U.S. championships while just four months pregnant with her second of three children. I don’t think running calculator guru John Kellogg has developed an 800-meter pace conversion chart for pregnancies, so I guess we’ll never know which performance is more elite.
Nonetheless, from a shear athletic standpoint, Montano deserves obvious credit and most media outlets justifiably celebrated her physical accomplishment. On this Mother’s Day column, however, I wish to shine a light on what is inherently more important.
In today’ day and age, a woman’s true superpower — the ability to nurture children and act as CEO of the family — has been downplayed to a devastating degree. While the prosperity of history’s flourishing civilizations has always rested on the family unit’s strength — with mom as the nucleus — our culture finds itself ‘progressively’ incentivizing absent parents and broken homes as society’s foundation visibly rots.
The loud-and-clear message to young girls today is they aren’t valuable unless they assert authority, assume leadership and bring home some bacon. It really isn’t a stretch to say that our culture demands its women to be, well, just like its men.
But a woman’s true superpower flows from the fact she is indeed a woman. My anxious realization that I probably would have lost to Montano in a footrace that day was irrelevant because of the fact that I literally couldn’t have — and never could do — what she did. I can’t be Mom.
By the way, for the single mothers out there, thriving and striving — you rock and are heroines to your families. Not every situation allows for a mom to stay at home, even if they’d prefer to, but that’s a different discussion than one of society pressuring women to not make that decision.
For all the negative noise surrounding homemaking, I’ve never encountered a mom who gave up their full-time career say, “Well, if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have rather taken the Wells Fargo promotion.” Believe me, I sympathize with folks who worry about affording life’s necessities. It seems, however, we can’t afford not to have moms invested in being moms.
My wife taught in math, severe needs and special education classrooms for almost a decade. Few professions provide such fulfilling, meaningful work, but in her heart, they pale in comparison to her present task. I would guess a fifth U.S. title — heck, even an Olympic medal — wouldn’t have rivaled Montano’s now 7-year-old daughter Linnéa, either.
Some may suggest I’m unqualified to speak about moms. My only argument against that is I know something about moms because a very good one raised me. In light of the recent Supreme Court leak, this column is sure to strike a chord with readers, though my intent was not to harbor dissonance, but rather a harmonious agreement on this point:
Moms — you rock.
Not because you have the cleanest “soccer mom” van or “ski mom” suburban. Not because you could make more money than dad if you wanted. Not even because you can run a 2:32 800-meter while eight months pregnant.
You rock because you decided being a mom was that one true calling worth everything.