You don’t have to be an athlete to understand that the schedule of one is incredibly intense. Practice, training sessions, travel, competitions, appearances, the list of things goes on. Now add to that all the commitments that come with being a mom.
“It’s busy, I’ll tell you that much,” says professional soccer star Jess McDonald of a day in her busy life. She plays in the National Women’s Soccer League for the North Carolina Courage. She was also a member of the United States women’s national soccer team that won the World Cup in 2019. She juggles her playing career and many responsibilities with tending to her 9-year-old son, Jeremiah, who during the season, when possible, hits the road with her.
“He can travel with me a lot of the times and just being able to show him the world and in keeping that balance between my career and being a mom, just being successful in my career, it pushes me every day to want to be better for my kid. I couldn’t imagine not being a mom.”
And yet, her circle of athlete moms friends doesn’t exist. On both the World Cup team and her current squad, she has been the only player with a child.
“A lot of my teammates, they go home and they could take a nap, binge-watch Netflix. Whereas me, that doesn’t happen for me because I’m the only mom on the team, and my lifestyle is just so different from literally everyone’s on my team.”
Still, McDonald’s lifestyle works just fine for her. She doesn’t let the work of balancing it all deter her from continuing to play the sport she loves. That determination and the success that has come from it is something she hopes will inspire young female athletes. She has partnered with Always to help encourage girls to stay in sports because it’s been found that nearly half of girls will drop out of such activities.
“It makes me sad just learning that nearly one in two girls drop out of sports during puberty,” she says, noting the ways that playing sports has helped her to have great confidence, to deal with stress, and to meet people, among a number of other things.
“I give credit to sports for teaching me non-athletic life skills like focus, accountability, discipline, and that’s where it all just comes together on the field,” she says. “I love pressure. I love that chip on my shoulder. This is me just speaking as an individual. Being the only mom on the team, that’s another chip on my shoulder, and I like to use that as fuel.”
Playing sports over the years has also emboldened her to speak up for change. McDonald was featured in a recent HBO documentary titled LFG (‘Let’s F–king Go’), which addressed pay inequality and the way it has impacted team members. To supplement her salary as a professional player, McDonald has had to work side jobs that have had nothing to do with soccer. And while she could have given up and opted for another career path due to the financial struggles, she loves the sport. She also knows you can have a greater impact trying to make improvements by using the platform you have to raise your voice, rather than complaining about it from the outside.
“Years ago, we could all say, ‘Hey, we’re all doing this for the love of the game.’ We still love it, of course. Not to take that away, but now, since we’ve been as successful as we have been, we have a platform now. Whereas, we didn’t beforehand. Whereas, those before us didn’t really beforehand, and now we have a voice,” she says. “We believe not in just equal pay, but in equality across the board in general. Equality in how businesses treat us. Equality in how we are viewed as professional athletes.”
Not only her talents on the field and her accomplishments, but also her advocacy work are sure to inspire young girls playing sports, as well as anyone who believes in the importance of fighting for what’s fair.
“I can come up with my own personal experiences working at Amazon packing boxes 10 hours a day…or running soccer camps just to make ends meet. You guys see it in the film, LFG, that I’m still coaching kids just to make some extra money on the side. Also, all while being a mom. But I love it.” she adds. “I love being on this platform. I love being able to have a voice because if you look at history, my grandmother, for example, she didn’t have a voice. If she said anything who knows what the repercussions might’ve been? Whereas, we have voices now and that’s what’s going to fuel us on and off of field, is equality. That’s all we want.”