Mixing motherhood and sports: A birth, a rebirth

Vanessa Hayden-Johnson was worried that the birth of her daughter would signal an end to her professional basketball career. Instead, she is rejuvenated in her return to the WNBA with the Lynx.

hide

Vanessa and Zyon Brianna Hayden-Johnson: Vanessa sat out last season to have a baby. She is back playing and credits Brianna, now 11 months, for helping revitalize her career.

Photo: Vanessa Hayden-Johnson, Special to the Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

After her third season with the Lynx in 2006, Vanessa Hayden went to Istanbul, Turkey, to play pro basketball. Shortly after her arrival, the 6-4 center called her husband in Gainesville, Fla.

Hayden was sobbing. "I'm pregnant," she said.

Her tears were not of joy. Brian Johnson knew his wife's world had just crumbled.

"I'm not going to play basketball again. I love basketball. I'm going to get fat," she told Johnson.

Her career instead was reborn. Hayden had her baby -- Zyon Brianna -- last June, then spent eight months in Turkey playing basketball as she and her sister cared for her daughter. Today she will play for the Lynx in their third and final exhibition game.

Minnesota will face the Los Angeles Sparks in Grand Forks, N.D., on Mother's Day. The Sparks have three of the other 17 mothers playing in the WNBA, including three-time league MVP Lisa Leslie, whose baby is 11 months old -- the same as Hayden's.

"I think it is good for the WNBA when our players get married and have babies," Leslie said in her recently released biography, "Don't Let the Lipstick Fool You."

"We are professional women in sports," Leslie said. "It is a good thing for people to see that female athletes can have family lives, just like other working women."

Hayden's pregnancy was not planned. Many people, relatives, friends, even agents -- not hers -- advised Hayden not to have the baby.

"I am a Christian woman and we are a Christian family," Hayden said. Abortion was not an option. Hayden returned to Florida and on June 3, 2007, two days before her 25th birthday, gave birth to her baby girl.

Zyon, her first name, comes from "To Zion," an inspirational song by Lauryn Hill about her choosing to have a baby, her oldest son, over a career and rejoicing about the decision.

Hayden-Johnson, who has added her husband's name since having their baby, is also celebrating. She credits Zyon with salvaging her WNBA career, rather than ending it.

"If it had not been for my daughter, I don't know what I would be doing right now," Hayden-Johnson said. "I was headed the wrong way before. I was a selfish person, very selfish, with an all-about-me attitude. Even with basketball, I was like, whatever. Cut me tomorrow, I don't care."

Change has come

Hayden-Johnson said she is a different person now.

"I want my daughter to say, 'No matter what my mother went through, she made it, she didn't give up, she kept going,' " she said.

Second-year coach Don Zierden said he has heard a lot about Hayden-Johnson -- both good and bad. She had been overweight, not motivated. He offered her a fresh start.

"I've learned this in our profession: You are 6-4 on a good day and you are 6-4 on a bad day," Zierden said. "We need somebody to help us in the middle."

That could be Hayden-Johnson, a first-round pick out of Florida in the 2004 draft. She averaged 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for Besiktas in Turkey this season and improved those numbers in the playoffs. She received a bonus for leading her league in blocks.

Zyon was with her father in Florida this past week, but he and the baby will join Hayden-Johnson in Minnesota on Monday for eight days. Hayden-Johnson said she has become neater, more organized and no longer eats junk food.

Her weight is down from a high of 280 pounds when she delivered to 239. And she wants to lose more.

Grandmother role model

Hayden-Johnson wants to be the mother she never had. Her grandmother, Adella, raised her in the projects of Orlando. Her mother, Vicky, was a street person, addicted to drugs, who died of AIDS when Vanessa was 12.

Her father, Van, was a drug dealer and spent 12 years in prison. Hayden-Johnson tried to build a relationship with him when he got out. By then she was 19. Within a year, he died from an aneurysm.

Her grandmother spoiled her, buying her a teddy bear on every holiday. Her collection grew to 223 by the time she was playing in college at Florida.

Childhood traits like that had her husband worried when Hayden became pregnant.

"Vanessa was like a baby having a baby," Johnson said. "To be honest, I thought Vanessa would be lost. Would she change diapers, take the baby to the hospital? It's hard work, and Vanessa is like a big baby. But she shocked me how well she is with the baby."

"When I became a mother, I became another person," Hayden-Johnson said. "It changed me for the better. If you have a baby, if you can become a mother, you can do anything. I can land a plane, I believe. I gave birth."

Zyon, whose father is 6-1 and 295 pounds, weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. But the baby now weighs 25 pounds and is wearing clothes for babies 18 to 24 months.

"She is huge," Hayden-Johnson said. "She is going to be a post player."

Just like mom.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 104 FINAL
LA Lakers 103
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 55
Hawaii 94 FINAL
Chaminade 63
Nevada 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close