Callie Smith giving Allyce Jones a piggy back ride after a win on the pickleball court.
Allyce Jones and Callie Smith at the Tournament of Champions in 2023. PPA Tour

Fact Check: Moms can be pro athletes, too

DALLAS, TX – At the Carvana PPA Mesa Arizona Cup, a female broadcaster caused quite a stir after claiming that women lose their athletic ability after having two or more kids.

The comments came during a second-round doubles match between Alex and Angie Walker and Kaitlyn Christian and Christine Trifunovic.

“When a female has a child, their skill levels and playing abilities get better after having one child. That’s research and that’s a proven fact,” said the commentator. “But after two children, it drops dramatically. Christine has had a couple of children. She’s a little bit older, she’s in her 30s, whereas the others are in their 20s, so that could be the difference of the match.”

The pickleball community was stunned by the claim, myself included.

I thought it was absurd and ridiculous, so I chatted with some of the moms competing professionally who put this egregious opinion to shame season after season.

“Let’s turn away from the negativity and look at how many strong women we have in pickleball,” shared Megan Fudge DeHeart, a mother of two. “Scientifically, that fact may be right. Whether it’s hormonal changes, age, or responsibilities, we may not play like we used to, but when it comes to being a mom and a professional athlete, we are way better at multitasking. We don’t just play for ourselves, we play for our families.”

Megan Fudge DeHeart and Lily DeHeart smiling with pickleball paddles
Megan and Lily DeHeart at APP Tournament  @lily_jr_deheart Instagram

“Our time is now quality over quantity when we’re training. We’re a lot more focused and determined,” she added. “Those are things that motherhood teaches you, so I want to reiterate the superpowers that come with being a mom.”

For her part, Callie Smith is also a mother of two.

“We have a lot of female athletes on tour with one or more kids. If anything, us moms try and make up for the fact that we don’t have the scientific edge, but we’re great competitors,” explained Smith. “I think it depends on how hard you work to get your body back. If you come back from having two kids and you don’t do anything, then you’re not going to be in as great of shape as everyone else because they’re all working. They haven’t had things happen to their body where it expands and contracts and expands again.”

Both Smith and DeHeart actually saw a tremendously positive difference in their athletic ability after giving birth.

“I’m in better shape now than before I had kids. My mobility is way better. I’ve never been flexible in my entire life, and now I can almost do a split,” noted Smith. “My movement is also way better on the court. I’m stronger from lunging positions and side-to-side movement. I feel better all around.”

Callie Smith lunging to get a ball in all white at PPA Masters
Callie Smith at PPA Masters PPA Tour

“Ever since I’ve had two children, I’ve done a marathon, a Half Ironman, and I’ve become a professional pickleball player. My life has just begun. If anything, I feel like becoming a mother makes you value life even more,” shared DeHeart. “I embrace life even more knowing that I have two children watching me do it and be on the journey with me.”

Fellow pro Allyce Jones feels the same way.

“I became a Top 10 pro in three years, and I had children the entire time. I’m not less of an athlete because I have children. I actually work harder because I have kids, and I’m doing this for them,” she said. 

There are challenges for any professional athlete, of course, and after having kids, those challenges simply change.

For these ladies, motherhood brought about changes for the better both physically and mentally.

Allyce Jones and Callie Smith hugging after a win at the Tournament of Champions in 2023
Allyce Jones and Callie Smith at Tournament of Champions 2023 PPA Tour

“If I don’t do well in a match, it’s okay because pickleball doesn’t define me. It’s just something that I do. My kids help center me because I can come home to a family that loves me and wants to be with me, versus the idea that I just lost a pickleball match and it’s all about pickleball. I have a full life outside of pickleball, too,” said Smith.

The greatest joy for Fudge, meanwhile, is “sharing those big moments with my family. Having the family around me to celebrate those big moments is special.”

As for Jones, “despite the wins or losses on the pickleball court, I get to come home to kids and a family that brings me ultimate joy all the time.”

Bottom line, it’s all about family. 

“Any mom that goes out there and crushes it is amazing. The fact that she’s out there on the court, to me, that’s bravery,” concluded Smith. “You’re putting yourself out there and trying something. Any mom who’s willing to try something and go after their dream is a hero.”