“It’s Time For Me To Use My Voice”
By Adam Goucher

Last week Nike announced that they were updating athletes contracts to show their support of “championing, celebrating, and supporting” athletes during pregnancy.  The new update says that Nike “may not apply any performance related reductions for a consecutive period of 18 months.”  And although this new policy does nothing to address the suspensions without pay female athletes have been suffering from for years, it is a small step in the right direction.  But I must admit, this has brought up a lot of emotions and frustrations from the past.

My wife, Kara Goucher, and I were always open about our desire to start a family.  We discussed it with her Nike funded coach and decided on a timeframe that would be best for her career.  We even brought it up to Nike before she got pregnant.  What, we wondered, would happen to her contract while she was pregnant.  We were told, “Don’t even go there, as long as she stays relevant, everything will be fine.”  When Kara did become pregnant, the Head of Sports Marketing took us out to dinner to celebrate.

During Kara’s pregnancy she wrote a book, did more than 20 appearances, and met her coach to workout.  We all joked that she was the hardest working pregnant woman out there.  She made every appearance that was requested of her by her sponsor and made a dozen more.  She liked showing people what a healthy pregnancy could look like, and her popularity with the running public rose steeply during this time.

When Kara reached the 6 month mark in her pregnancy we got news out of the blue.  She was being “suspended” without pay until she could compete again.  We were shocked.  Was she not valuable going out and doing appearances and photoshoots?  After all, there were requirements beyond racing in her contract, were they now worth nothing?  But what really confused us was that we had addressed this ahead of time and been assured that as long as Kara upheld her appearance requests she would be fine.  We didn’t realize fine meant suspension without pay.  And, what exactly was “suspension without pay?”  The term didn’t exist in her contract, it was simply something Nike made up to suit their needs.

Kara’s pregnancy was considered high risk and the stress of this was concerning to her doctor and those around her.  Yet we felt like we had been wronged, and we went searching for answers.  Ironically the man who just announced Nike’s amendment to contracts calling for “celebration of pregnancy” met with us and said that Kara had not done her job in a year, and that she was not paid to share her journey, she was paid to race. 

As she began training after giving birth to our son, the stress and emotional pressure were affecting our entire family.  Two weeks after giving birth she was back at practice.  Within two months of giving birth, she was running 100 miles a week.  Her doctor told her she was concerned that Kara was training too hard to soon while breastfeeding an infant.  Eventually Kara felt she had to wean our son because she had to choose returning to racing over breastfeeding.

Three months after giving birth, she was preparing to race a half marathon.  In the days leading up to that race our son became seriously ill and was admitted to the hospital.  In-between comforting our son, she would leave us at the hospital, guilt ridden and completely exhausted to go and train for her return to racing.  The morning after our son was checked out of the hospital, he boarded a plane with us to Phoenix, AZ.   Kara needed to race so she could stop the “clock ticking” on her return to racing.  Needless to say her race did not go well.  

Kara with Colt in the hospital after his surgery.

All of this time there was no resolution with Nike for how long her suspension would last.  In fact, Kara was in NYC racing a half marathon at the same time that she was pleading with the CEO of Nike, to understand her position.  She was explaining the extreme stress, both physically and emotionally, this was causing her.  She said she did not feel supported.  While her sponsor had her splashed in ads, she was still not receiving a paycheck.  She was told that as he understood it, her suspension was fair.  We still have the emails showing that this conversation took place.

When our son was 6 1/2 months old, Kara ran the Boston Marathon and placed 5th.  She ran a PR 2:24.  She was still under suspension.

As a husband, going through this with Kara was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure.  It killed me to not be able to fix this blatantly wrong and unjust treatment.  

I was angry and upset.  I was frustrated at being lied to, and disappointed in those who lied to us and forced us into a situation that was undeniably wrong.

Watching Kara push her body to such limits, all in an attempt to stop the clock and start getting paid again was maddening.  

It felt like being in a nightmare.  I was  watching someone abuse their power over her again and again, breaking her will and her body, and feeling as if I was chained to a chair and had no possible way to save her.  We were even told by her coach that it would be a bad idea to pursue any type of serious legal action against them.  He said that there would be no way Nike would keep us around, and it would be the end of our careers.

I was mad. I am still mad.

So, while I am happy to see that there is some change, I feel angry knowing that they had a chance to make this change 10 years ago.  This is not new, this has been going on quietly and secretly for decades.  And until they address the suspensions, I fear that many other families will go through the immoral situation that we did.