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Talk to Alysia Montaño, Olympic runner and founder of the non-profit &Mother, about mothering, working, and how she “does it all” for long enough and she’ll likely tell you about the beginnings of life.
See, when life on Earth began, there was very little oxygen; very few microbes could survive in the conditions. Then, something revolutionary happened: Microbes began living inside other microbes (forming what eventually became known as mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell); and, because of mutually beneficial relationships, cells began living together (evolving to create what would be the first animals). Together, the world evolved.
Today, there tends to be a more singular idea, Montaño says, of how things have to be in order for one being (usually a cisgender, white male) to survive, and everything else around that one being lives in harsher conditions. “But in a beautiful world with so many different beings, we all need each other to survive,” she says.
And “doing it all?” It can feel like the only option moms are left with, she says. “It’s the air we breathe, but in a lot of ways, it’s toxic.”
Last year, Montaño’s &Mother made strides in helping to clear the way for moms in sports, including running. The group worked with mom-focused activewear company Cadenshae to provide athletes breastfeeding-friendly uniforms, important in a world where women’s uniforms are “usually just less,” she says. &Mother also provided financial support for Olympian and Olympic hopeful mothers because, as Montaño puts it, “it’s one thing when you’ve already made the Olympic team, but how do we give moms the opportunity to try?”
This year, Montaño’s goals are loftier and include “thinking through different ways to make partnerships that are more than just a brand’s logo all over an athlete.” Take &Mother’s latest project with women’s running brand Oiselle: The two have pushed for sports sponsors to place protective language for pregnant people and mothers in contracts, something Montaño calls “a very basic ask.”
After all, no one should be dropped from a sponsorship, as Montaño was from Nike, for becoming a mother.
Montaño is quick to point out that visibility during motherhood (such as breastfeeding-friendly uniforms) matters, but that a quieter side of the equation is equally as important, too. “I understand the women who do not want to be visible in the workplace, the women who do not want to be undermined,” she says. “Placing language within our policies and contractual agreements tells an athlete: If this is something that becomes a part of your life, you don’t need to worry about it, you don’t need to think about it, you’re protected.”
Imagining that is enough to make any mother breathe just a little bit easier.
“It’s how we’re able to make this world habitable, not just for one lifeform,” Montaño says. “Because I don’t want to do it all by myself. I don’t.”
This profile was first published in the Winter 2022 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2022” which celebrates 15 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.