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Forget about mimosas and flowers. This Mother’s Day, Olympic medalist and six-time U.S. outdoor track champion Alysia Montaño will be supporting mothers in a much bigger way. She and co-founder Molly Dickens announced the launch of &Mother on Wednesday, a non-profit helping mothers thrive at home and at work.
After calling out former sponsor Nike for their lack of maternity protections just one year ago in a New York Times op-ed, the 800-meters specialist expanded her role from athlete to include advocate, as well. Montaño launched the #DreamMaternity social media campaign to shine a light on the hurdles facing working mothers both within and outside of sports. She also started Keeping Track, a podcast where she and co-hosts Molly Huddle and Roisin McGettigan focus on elevating the voices of female athletes.
When Montaño broke the silence about the widespread lack of support for mothers in professional sports she was met with an onslaught of me too’s. Runners Kara Goucher and Allyson Felix shared similar stories, but the issues clearly went far beyond the running industry. Women in many professions—lawyers, pilots, architects—who had similar experiences reached out to thank her for bringing the issues to light. “Sports has always been a microcosm of what’s happening on a larger scale in the world,” Montaño told Women’s Running in a phone interview prior to the announcement.
But knowing that she wasn’t alone in her struggle wasn’t enough. If anything, that awareness ignited Montaño’s passion to do more. “People were wondering how do we support [this] and that’s when the wheels started turning,” Montaño said. “I just knew that I wanted to push forward and actually make a tangible change.”
To lay the groundwork for &Mother, she thought about what support she herself needed. Before having her first child in 2014, when she found out Nike would pause her contract and stop paying her should she become pregnant, she left and went to Asics. After earning the nickname “that pregnant runner” while competing at 34 weeks pregnant in the 2014 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Asics reduced her pay based on her performance that year and then failed to renew her contract.
When her second child was born in 2018, without a sponsor (and the childcare it would have afforded), she struggled to fit in her training. “I was a working parent who now does not have that funding because I chose also to be a mom,” she said.
Montaño scheduled her workouts around a nursing baby and the short windows between her toddler’s childcare drop-off and pick-up. She recalls Aster, then a newborn, “just laying there [at the track] on my yoga mat and I’m nursing while I’m talking to my new coach.” She remembers thinking, if I could only have the space and time of child care.
While she and Dickens see &Mother eventually expanding to support women in all professions, right now they’re focusing on professional track and field athletes. Originally they envisioned supporters having the opportunity to direct their donations to specific runners in order to support their lead-up to the 2020 Olympic trials, offsetting expenses like childcare and travel. With the Games being postponed due to coronavirus, they’re switching gears; for now, donations supply a general fund to be distributed according to need.
Currently, the organization is awaiting approval for 501(c)(3) status, meaning donations will be tax-exempt. Those wishing to support &Mother can either make a donation or go to their website to purchase items from corporate sponsors Erica Sara Jewelry and Picky Bars, who will give the proceeds directly to &Mother. According to Montaño, they’re hoping to partner with more mission-aligned businesses as they grow.
&Mother aims to support women more than just financially. They also plan to create change on a systemic level. That change, Montaño says, starts with stories. Other women have told her that the conversation she started made it easier to talk to their sponsors about pregnancy. The non-profit will also provide a platform where women can share their stories.
While coronavirus has forced Montaño and Dickens to change course in the short term, it’s not derailing them. Perhaps, says Montaño, the difficult circumstances under which we are all forced to live and work, will serve to highlight the importance of &Mother’s mission. Regardless of income or circumstances, every parent is now being forced to manage work and childcare. And while a global pandemic is, of course, never a good thing, she says “at least you can see the difficulty that [exists] when there is no support.”
Though Montaño’s athletic goals remain to be seen, her non-profit’s vision is crystal clear: a world where women thrive professionally, not in spite of, but because of, their roles as mothers; a world where women aren’t avoiding conversations about their kids or hiding their pregnancies under oversized sweaters at work. “I want to make sure that future generations don’t have to do this stressful fight.”