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


U.S. Olympic hurdler Christina Clemons sent numerous emails to those in the track community raising concerns over a gap in health care insurance coverage for new mothers who still wanted to compete.

Those baby steps turned into big strides as 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 hurdle for women in the sport who want to start a family in the middle of their careers.

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

“There is a huge lack of support in sports in general when it comes to mothers, which is crazy to me,” said the 33-year-old Clemons, who gave birth to her son, Kylo, on Feb. 4, 2023, and is trying to make the U.S. team for the Paris Games this summer. “This program (by USATF) really is filling a gap and coming in and saving the day. You don’t feel so pressured to perform at a time when no matter what you do, you really can’t — not a year after pregnancy.”

Under the current system, a Team USA athlete can gain assistance through the Elite Athlete Health Insurance set up by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. It provides insurance for one year after the end of a pregnancy, with the caveat that an athlete still expects to compete. There’s also an athlete stipend.

USATF’s new plan increases the time frame to give an athlete more of an opportunity to recover and more chances to requalify for their funding, which is based on results and rankings through a tiered system that need 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 in the most recent major meet (Olympics or world championships) or finish in the top 15 in the world rankings. There are other levels, too, based on performance.

This season, USATF’s expanded policy includes six athletes, with funding part of the organization’s overall budget. It reimburses for COBRA health care premiums, along with providing additional support through the USATF’s high-performance programs.

“For us, it’s a pretty simple fix — and an important fix,” said Renee Chube Washington, the chief operating officer for USATF. “It’s stressful being a new mom or dad. … If we can help ease a little bit of that stress, we can and we will.”

For so long, women in track and field encountered the same sort of message — get pregnant and face barriers. Through the actions over the years of some of the sport’s top runners like Felix, Kara Goucher and Alysia Montano, more light is being cast on the subject. They successfully lobbied for more protections over endorsement-contract terms.

Clemons wants to help pave the way, too.

“It’s extremely important because these changes that us mothers are making will change the outlook women have on becoming mothers while still competing,” said Clemons, a silver medalist in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2018 world indoor championships. “Many women wait until after they finish their careers to become mothers because of the fear of not being supported. We shouldn’t have to put our lives on hold when men don’t have to.”

In addition, USATF is exploring ways to provide child care options at big events for athletes who are parents.

“It’s all a part of a holistic approach to help our athletes,” Washington said. “It’s part of the secret sauce that makes the difference to get us 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 U.S. outdoor championships that June. She didn’t officially return to training until last October, which didn’t give her a chance to requalify for tier benefits by the September deadline. She sent email after email to officials to voice her concerns.

The new program grants her a grace period to obtain tier status. Clemons made the U.S. squad for the world indoor championships last month, advancing to the semifinals in the hurdles. But it wasn’t until a race two weeks ago when she truly felt back, matching a personal-best time.

“What USATF did to correct this (gap) is huge for mothers,” said Clemons, who is preparing for U.S. Olympic trials in June in an effort to earn a ticket to Paris. “I’m very appreciative.

“I have the support that I need behind me. I really, truly feel like I’ll make this team and I’ll come home with a medal.”


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