When the Paralympics open on Aug. 24 in Tokyo with athletes’ family members unable to attend, two players on the USA Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team will rest a bit easier knowing their children are well provided for back home.
Lora Webster and Kaleo Kanahele Maclay are two recipients of track GOAT Allyson Felix’s new grant program called “The Power of She,” which provides financial support to mom athletes to help offset childcare costs associated with travel for training and competition. Felix, a leading advocate of maternity rights for mom athletes, teamed up with Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation to launch this new grant program ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
While travel of any parent puts hardship on families with children, the fact that women make up the vast majority of primary caregivers for young children makes Felix’s grant a welcome source of support for women like Webster and Maclay.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Lora Webster (@lora.webster)
A post shared by Lora Webster (@lora.webster)
Lora Webster, who is heading into her fifth Paralympic Games this summer, has been playing volleyball since she was five. At eleven she was diagnosed with bone cancer below her left knee and underwent a surgery called rotationplasty that removed the cancerous bone, including her knee, and reattached her lower leg (rotated 180 degrees) to her femur. This surgical option was appealing as it gave her full range of movement and allowed the sport-loving kid to resume athletic activity as quickly as possible. Once she had fully recuperated and finished chemotherapy, Webster got back to the court and eventually helped lead her Arizona high school (standing) volleyball team to the state championship in 2004.
That same year, Webster made a difficult choice when she decided to forego a DI standing volleyball scholarship in order to focus on the sitting version of the game. Though initially hesitant to try adaptive sports, she had recently joined the women’s sitting volleyball national team and quickly realized she was more challenged by and more passionate about the sitting game.
She has been fueled by that same passion ever since winning bronze with Team USA at the Athens Paralympics, where women’s sitting volleyball made its debut. But she hasn’t done it alone. She and husband Paul Bergellini have three children and another one on the way. Webster may not have her family with her in Tokyo, but she’ll be playing while pregnant with her fourth kiddo.
With The Power of She funds, Webster will now be able to afford to fly her mom to New York to cover the family’s childcare needs while she’s gone without suffering a significant financial burden when her mom misses 10 days of work. And this time around she’ll have a teammate who can empathize with the stresses of balancing elite athletics and motherhood.
Kaleo Kanahele Maclay is heading into her third Paralympics but her first as a mom. She and husband Matt Maclay have a 3-year-old son named Duke. Like Webster, she is among the first cohort of athletes to benefit from the Power of She program.
Maclay started training with the national sitting volleyball team when she was just 12 years old and played in her first international competition at 14. Bill Hamiter, head coach of the national team, had spotted the talented young setter in the standing club volleyball scene and recruited her to try the sitting version of the game.
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A post shared by Kaleo Maclay (@kaleomaclay)
Maclay was born with a club foot and has limited flexibility and muscle in her lower left leg. After making the transition to the sitting game as a young teen, she is now considered the best setter in the game. And now with a family of her own, she’s grateful for Webster and other athlete moms for paving the way.
As she told NPR this summer, “I think people like Allyson Felix, Serena Williams, Lora Webster, Kerri Walsh, who have really shown that you can be a mom and an elite athlete at the same time, have deeply encouraged me to know that I can do the same.”
Watch Webster, Maclay, and the rest of Team USA defend their gold medal in Tokyo from August 27th to September 5th on NBC networks, Peacock, NBCOlympics.com, or the NBC Sports app.