Alysia Montaño is “that pregnant runner.” At eight months pregnant, she ran the 800-meter race in the 2014 USATF championships, pink tank top barely stretching to cover her pregnant belly. Jaws dropped. Montaño might not have placed, but it didn’t matter; a new kind of legend was born. “It was this great empowering moment,” Montaño says. “Like, Wow I’m able to use my brain and also I have a uterus. That’s crazy! My brain still works, and my legs still work, and my body is this incredible, capable, physical machine as well as being able to grow a human.”
But before Montaño decided to race, she was worried about something else: her contract. For a sponsored athlete, pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery mean time away from competition—leave that typically isn’t covered by an athlete’s contract. “Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright, a runner formerly sponsored by Nike, told the New York Times in May.
During her first pregnancy Montaño was terrified of telling her sponsor. But she says a woman on the team at ASICS reassured her she had nothing to worry about. “I felt so much relief. At first, I was like, ‘This is how we should be able to come to our sponsors,’” Montaño says. She ran, went to events, did a photo shoot—pretty much business as usual. But an official clause protecting her against performance reductions while she was pregnant wasn’t actually written into her contract, she says. “When the woman at ASICS left, the first thing they did was look at my performance from that year I was pregnant and say, ‘Well, within this contract, you didn’t meet the standards, based on performance, and we’re going to reduce you,’” Montaño alleges.