For Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Wright, being a professional soccer player requires more than just a juggling ball

By Molly Keshin
Medill Reports

Two years ago, Arin Wright was rushing through the airport for the Chicago Red Stars’ first trip of the year. Not only were his bags full of football gear, but his hands were also occupied with a crib, diaper bag, stroller and too many bottles to count. And, above all, his breast pump.

Several hours and a full 90 minutes later, rather than celebrate his first return to the field for a competition in months, Wright checked his watch and disappeared from the field. Mom’s duty was calling.

“I remember right after my first game, I was like I was sprinting off the court because I was looking at the clock like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so close,'” Wright said. “I need to pump. I feel like I’m going to burst. »

Heading into the 2021 season, Wright, a veteran Red Stars defender, expected the challenges that come with balancing motherhood and a career. However, being a professional athlete in the National Women’s Soccer League added a whole other list of concerns about juggling soccer balls and family life. This inspired Wright to take the initiative to form a partnership between the Red Stars and the Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI) and US Fertility last October.

As she casually scrolled through Instagram as she and her teammates hung out in the locker room on a beautiful fall day, Wright suddenly rose from her chair. “Guys,” she said, “did you just see what Racing Louisville posted?”

At first glance, it was simple: a purple graphic. But in reality, it was much more. The post announced a partnership between the club and the Kentucky Fertility Institute, with a caption that included, “We believe players shouldn’t have to choose between playing and having a family.

As various teammates responded with “Whoa” and “That’s so cool”, Wright was already typing on his phone, texting Red Stars Director of Sponsorship and Operations Michelle Henstock and asking to follow in the footsteps of their opponent NWSL.

“We’re a women’s sport and as we get older in this sport, people play longer and families are one thing that comes to mind,” Wright said. “We had to figure out how to make the league and our team as accommodating as possible while not hindering our performance on the field. Having that peace of mind is super important.

Jonathan Lintner, vice president of communications for Racing Louisville, agrees wholeheartedly. He said the club, which is in only its second year, has started a “motherhood movement”.

“When you look at the big picture of building a club, there are certain things you do, like building a world-class training center and stadium,” Lintner said. “You do these kinds of things to attract players and then there are things like that that you just do because it’s the right thing to do, especially if you have the resources. If you want to win games, you want your athletes to be happy and healthy.

Dr. Channing Burks Chatmon is a reproductive endocrinologist and board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist by the Fertility Centers of Illinois, as well as a former Division I athlete herself. To add to the list, she is also now the lead fertility care doctor for the Red Stars. Through this partnership, Dr. Burks Chatmon will support club athletes in three services: egg freezing to preserve fertility, embryo freezing for family planning, and fertility awareness testing.

“As you can imagine, most of these women are in very good health, but it’s mostly the impact of age on fertility, as they play much later in their thirties, like Carli Lloyd,” said Dr. Burks Chatmon. “There’s the question of ‘OK, do I want to have a family? Should I prioritize that over football and give it up as my passion? We don’t want women to have to choose, so we want them to be able to come in and assess their fertility potential or reserve, and then be able to make decisions based on that information. Players’ fertility information and decisions will remain private between them and Burks Chatmon.

According to Wright, an important part of the partnership is that the team will financially support the services, which would otherwise be hard to afford for the average NWSL athlete.

“To me, it was a no-brainer,” Wright said. “I honestly didn’t realize I had this passion for fertility until I had (my son) Grady, but now that I’m an older veteran in this league and I’ve had friends who had fertility issues and I know what the process of being a mom is like, I’m super happy with that and supporting the league as it grows. I really hope other teams follow suit, and I wouldn’t mind making calls if people need convincing.

There are several other aspects of balancing motherhood and being a professional athlete that Wright has learned about and enjoyed — as well as advocating for change — especially since her son, Grady, is newly born. turn 2 on April 20. To name a few: match team meetings with your child’s nap times; caring for her healing body after childbirth while fixing a strained hamstring; consolidating maternity leave details that are now set out in the first NWSL collective agreement; and advocating for league-wide daycare, as she’s come to appreciate his ability to let her focus on football while she’s at work.

As a healthcare professional and mother of two, Burks Chatmon said she also understands the challenges that come with work-life balance.

“Moms who are professional athletes face the same challenges as mothers who are professionals in any field, but this is taken to the next level,” Burks Chatmon said. “The light and awareness they can bring to the issue will hopefully transcend to other women, in other sports leagues or professions.”

Wright continues to enjoy her experience as a mother with a whole team behind her – especially because Grady loves it when all 25 teammates surround her at the airport on trips away, saying, “I love you. , Grady!” and give her gifts. But Wright is also working towards his ultimate goal in life: to make a difference.

“I always wanted to be a part of something that would change the trajectory of someone’s life and career, and right now is my moment,” Wright said. “Now we might have the ability to not have to feel stressed by our biological clocks. I’m super excited about it and can’t wait for the years to come.

Molly Keshin is a graduate student in sports media at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter @mollykesh22.