SHELBURNE: Camarillo product, softball star Mendoza ready for a welcome addition to her schedule
It’s a word Jessica Mendoza rarely uses.
If there’s a plane, there’s a way. If there’s a game, she’s going to play.
But having a child? That was going to be a bit more complicated than just scheduling it into her Blackberry.
Even after she got back from winning a silver medal in softball at the Beijing Olympics, Mendoza’s life was fully booked.
As president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, she found herself hopping on a plane to New York every week or two. There were speaking engagements, softball clinics, photo shoots and television work for ESPN.
Lunches with family and friends quickly were assembled via text message. Quality time with her husband of almost three years, Adam Burks, came whenever she could find it.
How in the world would she fit in motherhood?
Nature has a way of sorting things like this out. And around the corner, in some unlikely places, she found a sorority of elite women athletes who’d asked that same question of themselves, ready and happy to nurture her through the process.
“My life was so crazy, it never occurred to me that I could get to the point where I could have a family anytime soon,” said the former Camarillo High star who is due to give birth to her first child this month.
“But then all of a sudden, it was like a light switch went on. I’d walk around the airport and all I could see were babies. Just babies, everywhere. They all looked so cute.
“It was like nature’s way of telling me I was ready. At least that’s how I saw it.”Once she’d made the decision, timing was the only consideration.
There never was going to be a convenient time for all of her sponsors or interests. Never a perfect lull in the schedule of an Olympian with an Olympian-sized public calendar.
But once she’d had her epiphany, Mendoza, 28, had a sense of calm about it. She would find a way.
Little did she know, almost the second she decided to have a child -and keep her career – she’d joined a rather exclusive sorority.
Other female sports stars who’d had children began calling her with advice – first from her teammates on the U.S. softball team like Stacey Nuveman (UCLA), Jennie Finch and Lisa Fernandez (UCLA), then from some she knew in the foundation such as boxer Laila Ali and soccer players Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain.
“It’s like this instant connection between us athlete moms because we all want it to never be a question of whether we can do both,” Mendoza said.
“Joy Fawcett, she was one of the first (on the U.S. women’s soccer team) to have children and then continue her career. She was really a trailblazer, because back then it was a question of whether you could do it.
“What I’ve learned from all of them is that you can do both. That’s the message I want to tell people. Not just athlete moms, but all moms.
“We just have to be role models for each other.”
Of course saying that now before the baby arrives is one thing.
“As much as I’d like to say that life will be the same except that I’ll have a baby on my back, I definitely think justifying certain things is going to be harder,” she said.
“I usually don’t turn down anything. If can get there, and I want to do it, I suck it up. But I can’t tell a newborn baby to suck it up.
“So I know that certain things, certain trips, I’m going to have to say ‘no’ to. Or find some other way of doing it that isn’t so hard on Caleb (the name she and Burks have chosen for their son).”
The last few months of pregnancy have been a bit of a trial run in being more selective in her scheduling. She’s been home for two months now, which probably is her longest extended period at home since she left for at Stanford in 1998.
Her days are spent making last-minute preparations, going to prenatal yoga classes and visiting friends and family.
“It’s funny. I thought it’d be hard to just be home but I feel like I’m still really busy,” she joked. “I think if that’s the kind of person you are, you still pack your schedule, you just pack it with things around home instead of trips.”
In the past two weeks, she’s found time to speak at the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year banquet, attend the ESPYs, participate in a photo shoot for ESPN the Magazine, help coach a celebrity softball game benefiting the ALS Foundation, speak at the XGames and visit with a Special Olympics softball team in Newbury Park.
Her husband just smiles and laughs at his wife’s schedule.
He’s used to it by now and has come to appreciate the reasons behind it.
“I just never want her to look back and feel like she didn’t do something she wanted to do,” Burks said. “I know how passionate she is about what she is trying to do in reaching out to younger women, being a role model and being an activist.
“So whatever I have to do to help her or support her in doing that, I’ll do.”
If anything, Burks might even be a bit more gung-ho about things than his wife.
She already was planning on trying out for the U.S. national team next January but wasn’t sure how many more years she’d play.
Softball has been voted out of the 2012 Olympics, but Mendoza is part of the contingent lobbying to get it back on the program for 2016 or 2020.
If that’s an option, Burks wouldn’t mind taking the kids on an Olympic adventure to watch their mom play.
“Absolutely,” he said. If softball gets back in, I want her to be there.
“I want our child, or maybe our children if we’re blessed with another one, to witness that, to see their mother play in that uniform.”
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