Laura Kenny Mentioning Motherhood in Her Retirement is Another Gift to Women’s Sport

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For those of us who gleefully lived through the mania of London 2012, seeing Laura Kenny’s retirement announcement today felt poignant and almost personal. And for those of us who have also since had children and tried to balance our career progression with the demands of motherhood, her statement as to why she’s decided to step away from professional cycling hit deep.

Announcing her retirement to the BBC this morning, Kenny steps down as Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian. In an interview to explain her decision, Kenny said: “It’s been in my head a little while, the sacrifices of leaving the children and your family at home are really quite big and it really is a big decision to make.

“More and more, I was struggling to do that. More people asking me what races was I doing, what training camps was I going on – I didn’t want to go ultimately and that’s what it came down to.

“I knew the minute I was getting those feelings. Once I said to Jase [husband Jason Kenny], ‘I don’t think I want to ride a bike any more’, I started to feel relief.”

Related: Meet the Team GB Twins Set to go For Olympic Gold Together

Of course there will have been a hundred reasons and circumstances that will have ultimately led to Kenny’s decision, but to hear her be open about the reality of trying to be a female athlete at the top of their game while also being a mother, was a parting gift to us all.

Kenny has always been open about her family life – though she doesn’t need to be, there was always interest given that she’s married to one of the nation’s top male cyclists. The couple had their first child, Albie, in 2017 and Kenny has previously spoken about a miscarriage in November 2021 and a later ectopic pregnancy in January 2022, that saw her rushed to hospital. Their son Monty arrived in 2023.

For Kenny perhaps the inclusion of her family in her retirement announcement was organic and almost expected – she’s repeatedly linked family life, her pregnancies, her struggles and sports as one big picture in public. Following her ectopic pregnancy, she told how cycling “dragged me through it” and how a bike ride a week after that hospitalisation helped her mentally.

“I would sacrifice any Olympic medal to have those children that we created. It was that that was constant in my head,” she said in an incredibly open conversation with Orla Chennaoui for Eurosport. “But bike riding gave me a release.”

As women’s sport thankfully begins to get the credit, platform and funding it deserves from the cycling track to the sports field, it feels like the sector has still yet to grapple with how motherhood fits into that picture.

There are women who seem to, like Kenny, take motherhood as just another facet of their career to deal with and talk about, such as Serena Williams. But for every woman making it work (and that’s of course not to even touch on what it might take to make it look like it’s working behind the scenes) there’s the other side. In 2019, Nike came under fire when a group of female athletes spoke to the New York Times about the company’s sponsorship during maternity leave. And recently, Australian commentator David Basheer came under fire, when, during the Women’s World Cup, he spoke about Australian midfielder Katrina Gorry, saying: “Certainly motherhood has not blunted her competitive instincts, that’s for sure.” His comments were met by outrage on social media, but it’s another example of how the sports world hasn’t managed to fit motherhood into its perspective or vocabulary.

Progress is tough, but it is rarely made in the dark. So, just as Kenny will have helped so many women with her openness in talking about her mental health struggles after her miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, bringing the fact that she’s a mother into the conversation around her retirement is incredibly valuable too.

Because, whether it’s conversations around travel for training camps, sponsors’ views on pregnancy, making sure there’s enough research into coming back to sport post-partum, or just the daily struggles all mothers face around workplace discrimination and childcare fitting into schedules, those conversations need to be had. And conversations start by people speaking out.

Touching, too, is Kenny’s openness about her personal priorities. “Family to me is everything,” she said in that Eurosport interview. “Gold medals bring you happiness right there and then but family is forever. So even to this day I would sacrifice gold medals to have more children.”

Whether that’s a viewpoint you personally would hold and how you choose to balance your family and career is irrelevant, for Kenny to simply bring family and children into the conversation is (sadly) still groundbreaking in the sports world.

So, as a sports fan and Olympics-lover I say thank you to Laura Kenny for the dedication that gave us all so many moments of joy. And as a mum, today I’ll say thank you for your openness and for starting conversations that still need to be had.

Rhiannon Evans is the interim content director at POPSUGAR UK. Rhiannon has been a journalist for 17 years, starting at local newspapers before moving to work for Heat magazine and Grazia. As a senior editor at Grazia, she helped launch parenting brand The Juggle, worked across brand partnerships, and launched the “Grazia Life Advice” podcast. An NCE-qualified journalist (yes, with a 120-words-per-minute shorthand), she has written for The Guardian, Vice and Refinery29.

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