It hasn't been easy, but juggling new motherhood rarely is. Couple that with being a Marian University basketball standout student-athlete, and you've got double the stress. Marian University Women’s Basketball Starting Point Guard Abby Downard ’22 doesn't think that. She takes it all in stride.
“Jaxon’s a really good baby,” she explained, “My family, teammates, and coaches have all been supportive,” “My teammates carry things on and off the bus for me, and my parents watch him before, during the game while I’m playing, and afterward,” she added.
Downard, the starting point guard the last four years, says Jaxon, just six months old, is already an “honorary member” of the team, but getting to this point where Abby is now—feeling confident as a new mother—and a star basketball player—was challenging.
Check out her road to success. She had an ACL tear which limited her to 17 games as a freshman, then there was the stress factor in her hip as a sophomore, but that didn’t deter her as she led the team in assists. Then, of course, there were COVID-19 restrictions that canceled the NAIA tournament as a junior when she was a first-team All Crossroads League selection and second-team All American.
“Abby is the consummate professional,” Women’s Basketball Coach Steve Brooks says. “She works hard at motherhood, and basketball. I’m sure she’ll continue to be successful at anything she puts her mind to.”
Playing basketball while pregnant last season Downard says, was tough. “It was really challenging with a little one growing inside me,” she explained. “It was fine at first, then as we got into February 2021, it was hard.” But the blessing, she says, was Jaxon’s birthday last July 2021.
You could call Jaxon, or “Jax” as the team calls him, a “good luck charm” of sorts too. Marian’s women’s basketball team, which is soaring high with a 14-2 record and ranked seventh nationally, just won a tough battle with Huntington this past Saturday, January 8, as they pulled ahead to a 70-57 victory. The team, with “Jax” in tow, is perfect at 6-0 in the Crossroads League.
“I guess you could call it a well-oiled machine,” Abby’s mother Deb explained. She and Abby’s father, Tom, who played at Ben Davis High School, coached Abby in Amateur Athletics Union and at Cardinal Ritter High School.
“Jax” also attends some game-day shootarounds with his mom and other functions where Abby’s teammates argue over who gets to hold him next.
“All of my teammates love it; they’re great with him,” Abby said. “They help out a lot as well, and I’m thankful for them.” It truly takes a village, or in this case, an extended family, as she and Jaxon’s father, Sterling Brown, who’s working on his master’s degree, is playing in his final season as a leading-scorer point guard at Trinity International University in Illinois. He played two seasons at Marian before transferring to Trinity.
“We were both shocked by the pregnancy, but we quickly adapted and were thrilled at the prospect of having a son,” Brown explained.
He drives often to see his son.
What also helps is knowing that pregnant athletes have competed and succeeded in all sports, including basketball, as Abby is realizing. Even the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), responded to the trend by adopting a provision in January 2020. It gives players full salary and other benefits during maternity leave.
So, is the WNBA next in Abby’s sights? Possibly. She says she wants to fulfill her dream of playing professionally in Europe next year as she and Brown are committed to aligning their careers geographically, and logistically while being able to co-parent Jaxon. Both also aspire to coach one day.
“The future can’t always be mapped out perfectly,” Abby added. “But when unexpected events happen, I know with my family, Sterling, and friends, adjustments can be made to successfully deal with challenges.” Abby continued, “Plus, I love being a new mom while being a college athlete,” Abby continued, “I think I have the best of both worlds.” And many believe Downard is a great example of that.