Did 'Marathon Mom' ignore her kids? Why a viral video is enraging runners and mothers

An aerial photo taken on Aug. 26, 2023, shows athletes as they compete in the women's marathon final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Earlier in May, a video of a woman running the Presidente Prudente Half Marathon in Brazil went viral after her husband let her kids meet her on the course. (Istvan Ruzsa/Pool/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Personal trainer Luciana Grandi Lourenção was about to win the Presidente Prudente Half Marathon in Brazil.

But before she crossed the 21-kilometre race's finish line, she had to dodge a couple of hazards in the road: her children.

In a May 5 video that has gone viral since it was shared on TikTok, Lourenção can be seen running down a hill, triumphantly pumping a fist in the air as she's about to cross the finish line with the time of 1:41:01, which would net her the first-place finish among the female runners.

And then, a man, later confirmed to be her husband, pushes Lourenção's young daughters onto the course. They run toward their mother, but Lourenção veers to the right and darts across the finish line without looking back. Behind her, the man shrugs.

The video made headlines around the world — some blaming the dad for "sabotaging" his wife's moment, some saying Lourenção ignored her kids — and ignited social media, where the original video has more than 16 million views and counting.

The comments are just as heated, with lots of people saying the video really represents how men don't take women's commitments outside the family seriously. Lourenção later clarified she and her husband had initially planned for her kids to cross the finish line with her, but she changed her mind when she realized she could win if she kept up her pace.

The video, for many, is symbolic of the kind of barriers mothers face.

"She has the choice to either pick them up and not win the marathon, or run around them and win," one woman posted in a video response.

"Mother runner ignored kids OR dad sabotages marathon mom by using kids?" wrote a running coach on Instagram.


Sport double standard

The video is disappointing, said Dawn Trussell, an associate professor of sport management at Brock University who studies motherhood and sports. In her view, it represents a bigger problem than what appears to be a dad's "problematic" timing.

"Mothers who are athletes often have to counter the unrealistic and self-sacrificing expectations of motherhood," Trussell told CBC News.

"Motherhood expectations can include dedicating all of one's time, energy and resources to be considered a 'good mother' while sacrificing their athletic identities."

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Studies have shown that motherhood discrimination in sport is real. For instance, recent research published in the journal Communication & Sport analyzed the media portrayal of two Canadian elite athletes (boxer Mandy Bujold and basketball player Kim Gaucher), finding they were discriminated against based on their motherhood status during lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The researchers called it a "motherhood penalty."

In 2022, a University of Alberta study suggested elite athletes who become mothers need better support from sporting bodies to continue their careers after birth. Prof. Margie Davenport with the faculty of kinesiology, sport, and recreation explained that, for female athletes, the window of peak performance and the window for fertility overlap.

"Male athletes don't run into the same issues. The level of stress is unimaginable," said Davenport in a news release at the time.

Meanwhile, Canadian research has also shown that becoming a parent is associated with decreased physical activity participation — especially for mothers. A 2022 report from Canada's Sport Information Resource Centre, a sports advocacy organization that partners with the federal government, explained that up to 75 per cent of mothers experience unique barriers to physical activity, ranging from guilt, pressure, and stress to a lack of time, support, or child care.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Yet, a lot of mothers have intense relationships with running. The activity offers emotional and physical autonomy — something often in short supply for moms. And it allows an identity outside of parenting: "runner."

"It was a release. And it was precious 'me-time'," Scottish runner and writer Keri Wallace wrote last year in Ultra Racer Magazine.

In the article, she explains why she turned back to running "too soon" after she became a mother, not waiting to build up her core, and just shot "like a rocket out the door."

"Running is the best antidote to the struggles of motherhood."

'I had to finish the run'

In a video posted to her Instagram Sunday, Lourenção responded to the controversy, saying she wanted to clear things up.

In the video, filmed in Portuguese and translated by CBC News, Lourenção explains she hadn't trained properly and didn't expect to win. The day before the race, she and her husband had agreed she would "cross the finish line with the girls without knowing if I was going to win or not."

But she did better than she expected. And when it was time to finish the race, she said, "I saw the girls on the side but I had to finish the run and win. After that, I hugged my daughters."

The video didn't show that moment, or the one where she took her girls onto the podium when she collected her medal.

She lamented that she "didn't make my arrival as beautiful as we had planned," but added she knows she'll have other opportunities.

Her husband, Pedro Lourenção, told a Brazilian news site he had no idea the second runner was so close behind his wife.

"I didn't do anything to be malicious, nothing to get in the way," he said, while adding that he's avoiding reading the comments on social media.

Meanwhile, the trending search term on TikTok for Lourenção's original video is "Marathon Mom ignores her kids," and a number of people have commented negatively on the fact that she runs past them in order to win.

Some have also wondered who the man is she's seen hugging after she crosses the finish line, joking that she picked a new husband.

Lourenção cleared that up on Instagram, too, noting that he's her brother and fellow athlete.

"We are an active family and we will continue to be."

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