Professional female sports stars have always challenged society, setting precedents for generations to follow. In India, breaking away from the norm to play professionally is no easy task, yet, over the years, we have seen a number of athletes who have done just that. Motherhood, however, forced the women players to leave their playing days behind as they settled into the rigours of looking after a child.
This traditional trend, too, has undergone changes in the recent past, with a number of female sporting icons returning to the circuit after giving birth. Here are some Super Moms from the country, who continue to chase their dreams.
The former basketball player, who also served as the captain of the team, is the first and only Indian woman to have turned out in nine Asian Basketball Confederation championships continuously. With a record 30 medals in the national championships, the Tamil Nadu star soon emerged as the face of women’s basketball in India. The youngest to captain the senior national side at the age of 19, Anitha has also played a number of tournaments like the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, besides playing for a professional league in Thailand. In August 2012, she was selected to play for an international women professional league in Thailand. Challenges heightened for Anitha, when she was diagnosed as pregnant. She had to entirely depend on her family, parents and husband. After her childbirth, she used to get one hour every day for exercise, which eventually helped her to return to basketball.
The new mom-on-the-block, Mirza recently returned to professional tennis after a long hiatus of two years, in which she had a child. She marked a successful return as she clinched the Hobart International. The former world number 1 in the double’s category, Mirza has won six Grand Slams, and even made serious waves in the single’s circuit, before an injury forced her to switch to doubles. The highest-ranked Indian women’s player in the WTA ranking, reaching world number 27 in 2007, Mirza has surpassed the USD 1 million-mark in career earnings and has emerged as a true inspiration for young women in the country.
The Indian chess GM won the Rapid Chess World Championship in 2019, and became only the second female to exceed the 2600 Elo rating mark, after Judit Polgar. This came after Humpy returned from a two-year (2016 to 2018) sabbatical from chess after she became a mother. The youngest woman to achieve the title of GM (the record has since been broken by Hou Yifan), Humpy returned with two gold medals from the 2006 Asian Games, and has helped in taking Indian chess to the world map.
The professional boxer has won various medals in her career thus far, including a gold in the 2006 World Championships in the lightweight category, which followed a bronze that she had won in the 2005 Championships. She won a controversial bronze in the 2014 Asian Games, and bagged a silver in the CWG that was held the same year.
The Indian athlete competes in the high jump category, and is currently the national record holder of 1.92 metres. She managed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games by breaking Anju Bobby George’s record of 1.91 metres. Though she crashed out in London in the very first round, the mother of a daughter impressed with her grit and her determination to play in a physically draining sport even after birth.
The Manipuri player is the only woman to win the World Championships a record six times. Mary Kom returned with a bronze in the 2012 Olympic Games and has a host of other records to her name as well. The only Indian woman boxer to win an Asian Games gold (in 2014) and the first to win a Commonwealth Games gold (2018), Mary has managed to pitch in with consistent performances even after taking two sabbaticals when she was at her peak, to give birth. Her twins were born in 2007, while her third son was born in 2013.
The three-time Olympian is an international gold-medalist in discus throw, winning the top honours in the 2010 CWG held in New Delhi. She has also bagged two bronze medals in the 2006 and the 2010 Asian Games. The current national record holder with a throw of 64.76 metres had a son in 2001 with Virender Poonia, who was also her coach. The backing of her husband and the ability to achieve top honours even after giving birth remains applaudable.