Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, Faith Kipyegon, and Other Top Athletes Who Broke Barriers in Motherhood

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, Faith Kipyegon, and Other Top Athletes Who Broke Barriers in Motherhood

Martin Moses
updated at August 25, 2023 at 1:42 AM
  • Female athletes are often faced with the prospect of choosing between their careers and motherhood
  • A number of top athletes have given birth and returned to track and field events, picking up from where they left off
  • Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Faith Kipyegon dominate this list

Athletes are usually confronted with many challenges in their pursuit of becoming better in their respective fields. From issues beyond their control, like injuries, to human-caused issues, like inadequate support, most of them usually have to jump over many hurdles to make it to the top.

But for female athletes, the dynamic is always more complex when it reaches the time when she wants to start a family. Being pregnant and eventually giving birth often means reduced to no training sessions and, at times, prolonged periods of healing and recovery.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, World Athletics Championships, Faith Kipyegon, Nia Ali
Five-time world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrates with her son, Zyon, after winning Gold at the Doha World Championships in 2019. Photo by Christian Petersen.
Source: Getty Images

By the time the athlete gets back to her discipline, she has to work harder to regain the fitness and shape she had before.

It is, therefore, no surprise that many athletes are usually faced with the dilemma of choosing between their career and starting a family.

But as recent examples show us, you can choose both and return to the same level you were at before. We take a look at some of the top athletes who put a temporary pause on their careers after getting pregnant, giving birth, and coming back to the track.

1. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Fraser-Pryce is the most decorated sprinter ever, male or female, with her senior career taking off in 2008 when she surprised everyone at the Beijing Olympics.

The Jamaican is a five-time World champion and a two-time Olympic champion in the 100m race. After the Rio Olympics in 2016, she found out she was pregnant, ruling her out of the 2017 World Championships.

To make it even more complicated, she endured a difficult pregnancy, giving birth to her son, Zyon, via a Caesarian section.

Her recovery took long, but she was back in time for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, where she won her fourth world title, becoming the oldest woman and first mother to win a 100m race. She followed it up with a fifth title in 2022 before claiming bronze this year in Budapest.

"The message I would love to send to mothers is that motherhood doesn’t diminish your capabilities or hide your gifts," she said in a 2022 interview, as quoted by Olympics.

Zyon has inspired her to do more, including hilariously terrorising parents during a school day in Jamaica, as previously reported by Sports Brief.

2. Faith Kipyegon

While Fraser-Pryce is the most decorated sprinter ever, Kenyan Faith Kipyegon holds the honours in middle-distance races, particularly the 1500m race.

Before 2023, she had already etched her name in the annals of history with double world and Olympic titles. She then took it a notch higher by breaking three world records in a span of two months. She has since followed it up with another 1500m title in Budapest, with more to come.

The 29-year-old has achieved all this despite taking a break in 2017. She had just won the Rio Olympics and the 2017 World Championships in London. Kipyegon took a step back and gave birth to her first daughter, Alyn, in June 2018. Like Fraser-Pryce, her daughter was delivered through C-section, making the recovery time longer.

She resumed training in January 2019, just ahead of the Doha Championships. She bagged silver, finishing behind her nemesis Sifan Hassan. Kipyegon reclaimed her championship status in 2022, which she has since defended in Budapest. In between, she won the Tokyo Olympics.

"I proved that you can take a maternity break and come back even stronger. Before I gave birth to Alyn, I never ran a world record, but now I am here with Alyn and the world record. I want to be an inspiration to many."

3. Nia Ali

The American hurdler has had to put a comma in her career on multiple occasions. She has three children and has each time come back on track, yielding positive results.

Ali won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and claimed gold in Doha 2019. The silver in Brazil came approximately six months after she had given birth to her first son, Titus.

Her daughter Yuri was born in 2018 and a year later, Ali defied the odds to win gold in Qatar.

"I want people to understand you can balance track and motherhood. Having a baby doesn’t have to hold you back from achieving your goals."

She has qualified for the 2023 finals, where she will face a star-studded field led by defending champion Tobi Amusan.

Other notable mentions

Fraser-Pryce and Kipyegon might be the most successful athletes in this category, but the list also boasts USA marathoner Keira D’Amato, Kenya's Sally Chepyego, two-time Olympic champion Shaune Miller-Uibo, and Spanish triple jumper Ana Peleteiro, among others who at one point in their careers, decided to pursue motherhood, before returning to track and field events.

It's doable.

Martin Moses photo
Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)
Faith KipyegonKenyaWorld