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Kelsey Stewart Hunter Returns To The Field Stronger As A Mom

kelsey stewart-hunter photo by jade hewitt athletes unlimited.jpg
(Photo by Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Olympian, NCAA champion, professional athlete and wife are just some of the hats Kelsey Stewart Hunter wears proudly. But most recently, she put on another extremely important hat: mom.

With the birth of her son, Trace, in August 2022, it was time for Stewart Hunter to make a decision relating to the game that has had her heart for so many years. Sitting out during pregnancy and watching the 2022 Athletes Unlimited season unravel, she knew deep down that she could raise her child while continuing her professional softball dreams.

“From the beginning, I knew I was going to come back, but after I had (my son), it was kind of up in the air because I didn’t know if I could spend time away from him,” Stewart Hunter said. “But watching AU while I was pregnant, I knew I wasn’t ready for softball to be over.”

Since delivering via C-section, she expected returning to pro-athlete shape would be the hardest thing she’s ever done. But, reverting back to the fundamentals of the game with basic ground-ball work and tee drills eased her back into playing infield and hacking at 70-mile-per-hour pitches.

“It was still hard, don’t get me wrong, but easier than I expected,” Stewart Hunter said. “The very first time I did live batting, I was scared of the ball. The ball was coming so fast, I didn’t know what was happening.”

And with a new fan to play for in the stands, along with her husband, she realized there’s much more purpose in life that goes beyond softball, which helped her relax and play with a sense of freedom.

“What came back easy was the mental side of it all,” Stewart Hunter said. “It’s a bigger picture now having my son, Trace. Going 1-for-3 isn't as heavy as it used to be. I had a reality check. There is so much more important (stuff) than softball, and it’s the coolest thing ever to have a mini-me watch me play. One day, hopefully, I'll get to watch him on the big stage playing whatever sport or instrument he wants to do.”

Athletes Unlimited provides great benefits for its athletes, allowing them paid leave for pregnancy with no impact on a player’s contract or eligibility. With AU's goal of investing in women, Stewart Hunter could not be more grateful for how she was treated during her pregnancy, and she hopes one day all women's professional leagues will have the same core values as AU.

“This is the first time I have felt like a true professional,” Stewart Hunter said. “The way AU takes care of you as a pro is unmatched. How much they invest in women’s sports is something all women need. Just because you get pregnant doesn’t mean you should miss out on being paid. How easy my transition was and the amount of support I had from everyone at AU, I think all women deserve to be able to have kids, have that transition be easy and be supported through every step of the way.”

With almost a year of motherhood now under her belt, Stewart Hunter has learned so much about herself and is a model of just how incredible women are. After breaking her hand this past AUX season, it felt like nothing compared to her experience during labor.

“Motherhood, there’s nothing like it,” Stewart Hunter said. “It is the hardest, yet most-rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I broke my hand in AUX and I played through it for two weeks. I just kept telling myself you’ve given birth and nothing hurts worse than that. Being a mom just gives you this new perspective of life, how quickly time truly goes and how to live in the moment.”

And to Stewart Hunter, there is nothing more important than raising a boy who knows the importance of always supporting women.

“I always tell everyone I am raising an ally of women’s sports,” Stewart Hunter said. “He doesn’t have a choice. He is going to be on board. I would love him to know that women are just as important as men, and to always be an ally of women and support them on any level you can.”

With the 2023 Athletes Unlimited championship season starting on Friday, Stewart Hunter is ready to play to her fullest potential. In her new journey, she is no longer just a softball player. She is proudly a mom who also plays softball.

“I would love to finish as champion, but I would love to get back into my old self,” Stewart Hunter said. “(I'm focused on) getting on base, being consistent and finding my new identity as a mom, but a mom who plays softball.”

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