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Natasha Hastings wouldn’t let pregnancy end her track career

Natasha Hastings competes in the 400 meter during the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials last June. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

For the first five months of her pregnancy, two-time Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings was terrified to tell her sponsors that she was expecting. Yes, the opportunities available to female athletes had improved a lot in her lifetime, but having a baby was still referred to as the “kiss of death” in elite running circles.

“The truth is that every single minute of the first five months I’d been pregnant, I was terrified,” she revealed in a 2020 op-ed. “I was worried about how it would change my fitness, my body. What would it look like, feel like, when I came back? What did this mean for coming back for the Olympics? What did this mean for the rest of my track career? Would I effectively have a career at all?”

Born in 1986, Hastings is a classic product of Title IX, the 1972 legislation guaranteeing equal access regardless of gender and celebrating its 50th anniversary next month.

After exploding onto the scene at the 2003 USATF Junior Olympics, the New York native earned an athletic scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where she was the indoor and outdoor 400M national champion her junior year. Turning pro in 2007, Hastings went on to win gold medals with Team USA in the 4×400 relay at both the 2008 and 2016 Olympics.

In 2019, she was laser focused on qualifying for Tokyo. She envisioned it as her third and final Olympic games, an opportunity to bid farewell to the sport that had given her so much and that she had given everything to. And then she found out she was pregnant.

In addition to her fears about the physical impact on her body and performance, Hastings worried that people would question her commitment — that choosing to become a mom signaled to the world she was not 100 percent invested in her running career. From Hastings’ point of view, there were hardly any examples of elite runners whose careers weren’t derailed by having children, and plenty of examples of those who were affected, including her own mother.

“My mother, Joanne Hastings, was once a world-class 200-meter sprinter herself during the early to mid-Eighties,” Hastings wrote. “She was a record-setting star in college and made the 1984 Olympic team for Trinidad & Tobago. After I was conceived, however, her career as an athlete was over.”

After putting it off for as long as she could, Hastings finally picked up the phone and called Under Armour to tell her title sponsor she was having a baby. It was a huge weight off her shoulders when they responded with positive support and excitement. Looking back on the conversation later, Hastings realized that having women in leadership roles was key to the end result.

“When I was signed to Under Armour, a woman signed me. When I made the call to Under Armour to tell them I was pregnant, I made that call to a woman,” Hastings said. “It’s important for women to be telling our stories and making decisions for us. A lot of times, women are left out of the conversation because the people making the decisions don’t look like us, don’t understand us.”

Hastings trained for the Tokyo Olympics at home during the pandemic after giving birth to her son. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Hastings had well-founded reasons to worry about her sponsor’s reaction. Within a couple of weeks of her conversation with Under Armour, several Nike runners went public with complaints that the company had reduced their pay or suspended their contracts when they could not compete during and after pregnancy. Among the complainants was Allyson Felix, the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history. In a powerful piece for the New York Times, Felix detailed her frustrating negotiations with Nike over maternity protections that ultimately caused her to walk away from the table completely.

After the stories came out about what pregnant female runners were dealing with, Under Armour called Hastings again to check on her and open up a dialogue about the stress she felt before telling them.

In August 2019, Hastings gave birth to her son Liam and got back to training within weeks, as she still had her sights set on Tokyo. When the pandemic further derailed those plans, Hastings continued to train as best as she could at home. But when she eventually stepped to the line at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June 2021, Hastings did not qualify for Tokyo.

Days after her heartbreaking finish, Hastings told Self Magazine, “There are two things that I’m thinking about when I think about what I want to do going forward. Am I emotionally able to do this again, and am I physically able to do this again?”

Whether or not she decides to continue pushing her body to reach maximum speed and aim for a future final farewell on the track, Hastings knows that, regardless of becoming a mom, running doesn’t last forever.

Now a graduate assistant coach for her alma mater, where she is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical mental health as well as running her own foundation and raising her son, Hastings is one of many changing the image of professional female athletes. As more women are starting families well before their athletic careers are over, they are looking closely at their leagues, their collective bargaining agreements, their contracts and their brand endorsements and pushing for the necessary changes.

“I am definitely encouraged by seeing the number of athletes that are willing to use their voice and platform,” Hastings told Essence Magazine last year. “I think we all can agree as women and as Black women, a lot of times our experiences are minimized, or we’re being told that we’re being dramatic.”

As a result of female athletes speaking out, leagues around the country have implemented new progressive pregnancy and maternity leave policies.

In 2019, after Felix and her colleagues spoke out, Nike announced an 18-month contract protection period during and after pregnancy for sponsored athletes. The WNBA’s 2020 CBA included fully-paid maternity leave, two-bedroom apartments for players with children and a childcare stipend. The following year, the league granted access to free fertility testing for all players. The NWSL Players’ Association, in its very first iteration of a CBA this year, secured eight weeks of paid parental leave for both birth and adoption. And Athletes Unlimited last year guaranteed paid leave for pregnancy and postpartum recovery for as long as needed during the season, as well as parental leave for adoption and for any player whose partner or spouse gives birth.

Having a child was once an imposed finish line for female athletes, like Hastings’ mom Joanne. But Hastings’ generation of women, who came of age after Title IX and were raised on the promise of equal opportunity, have carried that standard into their careers as pro athletes and into motherhood, changing the sporting landscape for generations of women to come.

Tessa Nichols is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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