These professional athletes have decided to tackle a bigger challenge than sports — being a mom

United States' Serena Williams sits with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., as they look on during a Fed Cup qualifying tennis match Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Everett, Wash.
United States' Serena Williams sits with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., as they look on during a Fed Cup qualifying tennis match Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Everett, Wash. | Elaine Thompson

Some of the biggest names in the world of sports have decided to try their hand at an even bigger challenge: motherhood.

From Serena Williams to Candace Parker, several athletes have paused their careers to start families, even at the height of their careers.

Here is what some of these professional athletes have said about being a mom.

Napheesa Collier

In 2022, Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier returned to the court only 74 days after giving birth to her daughter, Mila.

The Olympian told Bally Sports North last year that she was “delusional” and thought she’d be able to keep in shape throughout the pregnancy and be able to just “pop her out and it’ll be fine.”

“This is definitely the hardest thing my body has had to go through and the longest rehab that I’ve had,” she said eight months after her return.

Collier said she always knew she wanted to be a young mom, and the 27-year-old quickly fell in love with her daughter.

“I can’t stand to be away from her, honestly. I’m obsessed with her,” she said.

Last year, she told the Star Tribune that motherhood has changed her.

“I feel a lot more mature already,” she said. “There is a much bigger responsibility in my life than just basketball now. Basketball was my whole life before. This has given me perspective.”

Julie Ertz

Olympian and two-time World Cup champion Julie Ertz briefly stepped away from soccer to give birth to her son Madden in August 2022. She worked her way back after her pregnancy and earned a spot on the U.S. roster for the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

Ertz was one of three moms — along with Crystal Dunn and Alex Morgan — on the team’s roster and spoke to Fox Sports about motherhood ahead of the tournament.

“To see your beautiful baby boy, it’s just true love,” she said. “You just have a whole new lens. Your whole life and everything that you view is just different.”

Spending more time with her son and family was a major reason for Ertz retiring last fall. She told reporters that in this stage of life for her, family time “is just irreplaceable,” as the Deseret News previously reported.

“I do feel like I could step away and be like, ‘It’s not because Momma can’t play. Momma can play. She has just adapted (her) priorities.’ And I think that just comes with age and just I feel like I’ve been so blessed to have the career that I’ve had,” she said.

Crystal Dunn

Portland Thorns star Dunn gave birth to her son, Marcel, in May of 2022. She kept active in her training throughout the entirety of her pregnancy. The week before she went into labor, she was practicing volleys and airborne strikes.

Five months later, she scored the goal that would send the Thorns to the NWSL Championship, which the team ended up winning.

“I’m not the first female athlete to be pregnant and give birth and have my career and be a mother at the same time, but I feel the more and more that we can speak out about our experiences and push for the next generation to feel like they have the option to do so as well is how you set up the future,” she told Just Women’s Sports.

Dunn’s perspective on life and her career has changed, she told Fox Sports prior to last summer’s World Cup.

“I used to bog myself down with a missed pass, an off moment, in games and trainings, and I think now, knowing that I come home to a happy, smiley baby is something you never take for granted,” she said. “I love the purpose it’s given me. I’m so much more than an athlete. I’m now a mom, a role model. Just having him along for the ride has been incredible.”

Serena Williams

Tennis legend Serena Williams is now the proud mom of two young daughters. She gave birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in 2017 and to Adira River Ohanian in 2023.

In 2018, Williams told Vogue that being a mom changed how she looked at tennis, which would make it easier for her to walk away from the sport.

“When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born,” she said. “Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”

Candace Parker

Women’s basketball legend Candace Parker hasn’t been shy about her love for her kids and for being a mom. She often shares photos of her two children on Instagram.

Parker values her role as a mother over her long list of accolades — two-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time WNBA champion, two-time NCAA champion and more.

“Being a mom is THE most important aspect of who I identify as. No matter how many hats I may wear, being a mom always IS NUMBER 1,” she wrote on Instagram in April 2023.

Her TNT coworkers even recognized her for prioritizing her kids after she announced her retirement from the WNBA less than two weeks ago, as the Deseret News previously reported.

“It’s the ability to be a mom and all of that and to make her children feel more special than she is,” Kenny Smith said of Parker. “I saw that every day. That’s what’s astonishing.”