USA Track & Field is expanding its maternity policy to give athletes more time to work their way back

U.S. Olympic hurdler Christina Clemons sent numerous emails to people in the track community to worry about a gap in health insurance coverage for new mothers who still wanted to compete.

Those baby steps turned into big strides when USA Track & Field unveiled a program Thursday that expands an existing maternity support system to give athletes more time to work their way back. It’s one less obstacle for women in sports who want to start a family in the middle of their professional careers.

For Clemons, it’s a way to help carry the baton and follow in the footsteps of Allyson Felix and others who have championed equality for mothers on and off the court.

There’s a huge lack of support in sports in general for moms, which is crazy,” said Clemons, 33, who gave birth to her son, Kylo, on Feb. 4, 2023, and is trying to make the U.S. team for this summer’s Paris Games. “This (USATF) program is really filling a void and coming in and saving the day. You don’t feel as pressured to perform at a time when whatever you do, you really can’t a year into your pregnancy.

Under the current system, a Team USA athlete can get help through the Elite Athlete Health Insurance established by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. It offers insurance for one year after the pregnancy ends, with the caveat that an athlete still expects to compete. There is also a scholarship for athletes.

The new USATF plan increases the time period to give an athlete more opportunities to recover and a better chance of requalifying for their funding, which is based on results and rankings through a tiered system that has to be achieved by a certain date. To qualify for tier status, an athlete must meet certain criteria, such as being a medalist or finalist at the most recent event (Olympics or World Championships) or finishing in the top 15 in the world rankings. There are also other tiers, based on performance.

This season, USATF’s expanded policy includes six athletes, with some funding from the organization’s general budget. Reimburses COBRA health care premiums, plus provides additional support through USATF’s high performance programs.

For us, it’s a pretty simple fix and an important fix, said Renee Chube Washington, USATF’s chief operating officer. Being a new parent is stressful. … If we can help alleviate some of that stress, we can and we will.”

For so long, women in athletics have been met with the same kind of message that they get pregnant and face barriers. Through the actions over the years of some of the best runners in the sport like Felix, Kara Goucher and Alysia Montano, more light is being shed on the subject. They successfully lobbied for more protections on the terms of the endorsement contract.

Clemons also wants to help lead the way.

It’s extremely important because these changes we make as moms will change how women look at being moms as they continue to compete, said Clemons, a silver medalist in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2018 world indoor championships. Many women wait until after to end their careers to become mothers for fear of not receiving support. We shouldn’t have to put our lives on hold when men don’t have to.

In addition, USATF is exploring ways to offer childcare options at major events for athletes who are parents.

It’s all part of a holistic approach to helping our athletes,” Washington said. “It’s part of the secret sauce that makes the difference to get on the podium, which is where we want to be.

For Clemons, the new health insurance policy became a game changer.

Clemons competed until she was 2 1/2 months pregnant, with her last race at the 2022 US Outdoor Championships that June. He didn’t officially return to training until last October, giving him no chance to requalify for tier benefits before the September deadline. He sent email after email to officials expressing his concerns.

The new program gives you a grace period to get tiered status. Clemons made the U.S. team for the world indoor championships last month, advancing to the hurdles semifinals. But it wasn’t until a race two weeks ago that he really felt back, matching a personal best time.

What USATF did to correct that (gap) is huge for moms, said Clemons, who is preparing for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June in an effort to earn a ticket to Paris. I am very grateful.

I have the support I need behind me. I really feel like I’m going to make this team and go home with a medal.


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