There isn't enough space in a standard-size newspaper column for a thorough Mother's Day tribute to current or recent world-class athletes who are moms. There are so many mothers in so many different sports who are extraordinary athletes, each with her own individual inspirational narrative.
Just a brief, quick-hit list includes (and if there is an omission, please know it's not intentional): Candace Parker and Tina Thompson in basketball; Dara Torres in swimming; Christine Rampone in soccer; Kim Clijsters in tennis; Jenny Potter in hockey; Paula Radcliffe in track; Juli Inkster in golf; and Jenny Finch and Stacey Nuveman in softball.
Not to diminish the extraordinary motivation, work ethic and talents of those athlete-mothers, but it shouldn't be ignored that they found acceptance and support in a society that has advanced seemingly lightning quick after decades of glacially paced progress. After all, it wasn't that long ago when females weren't encouraged to pursue sports, let alone competitive excellence, when motherhood and top-level athletics were mutually exclusive.
That's why today's Mother's Day tribute will focus on two athletes from generations past who reached the heights of their sport, became mothers, and returned to world-class athletic glory, at a time when it wasn't merely unusual, but when it was viewed by too many as an oddity instead of a groundbreaking, pioneering achievement.
Tennis prodigy Evonne Goolagong was still only 19 years old when she won Wimbledon in 1971. "New Champion In From The Outback" was Sports Illustrated's cover headline heralding her straight-sets victory against defending champion and fellow Australian Margaret Smith Court.
Goolagong's mere arrival at Wimbledon was somewhat of a fairytale. Born of Aboriginal parents, Goolagong was attracted to tennis at an early age, almost by accident, was brought along by liberal-minded tennis patrons, and before she turned 20 had won both the French Open and Wimbledon.
Over the next five years, Goolagong made it to the Wimbledon finals three more times. She also made it to the U.S. Open four consecutive years (1973-76). She won four consecutive Australian Opens (1974-77).
Goolagong married British tennis player Roger Cawley in 1975 had a daughter, Kelly, in 1977.
In 1980 she was back at the Wimbledon finals, where as Evonne Goolagong-Cawley she defeated Chris Evert-Lloyd in straight sets, the first mother to win a Wimbledon singles championship since before World War I, when tennis, especially women's tennis, was more staid than sweaty, far tamer, far less competitive than it would become in the Open Era (post 1968).
When her career ended, Goolagong had 68 singles titles and 11 doubles championships. Her name has receded somewhat when conversations turn to all-time best female tennis players. The names and achievements of Evert, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Clijsters seem to have more staying power. Also, fresher in the minds of today's younger fans are the superior athleticism of Venus and Serena Williams, among others.
But Goolagong belongs in that conversation. Especially on Mother's Day.
Margaret Smith Court, now 70, has become persona non grata among many tennis players, past and present, because of her outspoken opposition to gay rights, based on her Pentecostal religious beliefs. But if we look at her strictly as a tennis player, she also belongs in the conversation of best-ever.