A life women in sports should experience: Kelsey Stewart-Hunter on Motherhood and Softball
A lot has changed for Kelsey Stewart-Hunter since the last time she stepped on the turf at Parkway Bank. The name on the back of her jersey is a little bit longer, hyphenated for two last names now that she’s married. And this year she has a new fan in the stands, her son.
Stewart-Hunter took the 2022 season off to start her family and gave birth to Trace on August 13, 2022.
“I honestly think like it’s always been my life plan to have kids and then to still play,” she said.
There was no question if she would hang up her cleats; Stewart-Hunter was just temporarily giving them a break. After she watched her teammates play on TV last season, it confirmed that her fire to play the game had not gone out.
It was the little things she couldn’t keep her mind off of — the camaraderie, picking out that week’s team name, home plate celebrations, and the 59 teammates you surround yourself with for the summer.
Some of those teammates like Courtney Gano set the example of softball athletes who have had kids and continue to play while balancing motherhood during the season. Gano has brought her son Gregory with her for the past two seasons with Athletes Unlimited.
“It was cool to have people to look up to… [They] have been moms and helped me navigate the way. Friends like Keilani [Ricketts] who’s in softball and she had a baby right before me.”
She said that amongst her group of softball moms, there’s a question they’ve all asked themselves after the decision to keep playing: we’re going to go back but what does that look like?
“The first time I ran, I’m like, whose body is this? Like I don’t know who this person is,” Stewart-Hunter said. “But I think eight months out I’m starting to feel more like myself. I would say if you asked me a couple of months ago, I’d been like, ‘I don’t know who this girl is’.”
Stewart-Hunter is currently training to return for AUX and Championship season in June. She had a C-section delivery with Trace so not only is she training as a pro athlete, she has been recovering from surgery. Part of that has been simplifying the game to how it started for her competitively.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s going back to the basics of what made me successful. Like all those years ago when I was trying to get recruited into college,” Stewart-Hunter laughed. “Which is so crazy because it’s full circle.”
Glove work, setting her feet, palm up palm down hitting drills. It’s all been a part of her relearning the game for her body now.
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“Maybe I don’t hit as many doubles this year or do things like that but finding my new strengths, my new weaknesses and try to fine-tune all those things to make sure I’m ready and locked and loaded for AU.”
When she was ready, the league was waiting for her. Athletes Unlimited has a comprehensive pregnancy policy for all its athletes to ensure they are supported emotionally and financially.
Stewart-Hunter signed a two-year contract to compete with AU in 2022 and 2023 but she didn’t play in Season 3. Because of the league’s pregnancy policy, she still received a minimum base compensation during the season and her Season 4 contract was still valid, regardless of her not playing in 2022.
Those guidelines complement the league’s childcare policy, which provides that AU will work with players to reimburse them for certain childcare expenses. Stewart-Hunter will have Trace with her the entire season as well as the support of her mom at AU Softball this summer to help with childcare while she’s at practice and playing.
Stewart-Hunter remembers that this hasn’t always been the case. She recalled how she rarely remembers seeing and talking about pro female athletes who became mothers while competing. She’s been celebrated by her AU teammates who sent her a baby gift after the birth of Trace. She feels like here, being a mother isn’t a detraction from who you are as an athlete but a benefit.
Just like with Gano’s son Gregory, Stewart-Hunter knows the roster of support that comes with being a pro with AU Softball.
“Having a son, I realized that I can change it and have allies in sports. He doesn’t have a choice but to be an ally to women’s sports,” she laughed.
This is a life I wish all women could experience that are in sports.Kelsey Stewart-Hunter
When she looks down at her new custom Wilson glove this season, she sees all that she’s become in the details.
“I’m just tearing up whenever I open my glove ’cause I’m like wow, this is my life now,” she said. “To start as someone that was just all about softball and to grow into this woman I am that’s now a mother and trying to empower other women to stay in sports after having kids.”
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It’s no longer an either-or situation for female athletes. It’s an and.
Olympian and mom and third baseman and wife and teammate.
“This is just a game but it’s something I love to do and I’m able to do that while having a family.”
Savanna Collins is the Digital Media Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.
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