Competing in the Olympic Games is nothing new for Allyson Felix, the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time. However, when she gets into the starting blocks at the U.S. Olympic Trials, beginning Friday, she will be running with a new motivation: her 2-year-old daughter, Camryn.
Felix delivered Camryn at 32 weeks after an emergency C-section due to severe pre-eclampsia in November 2018. The procedure was life-threatening for both mother and daughter, but overcoming such serious challenges on her path to motherhood made Felix even more determined to make a comeback for the Tokyo Games.
My daughter has totally been that driving force, Felix told USA TODAY Sports. I’ve always been this competitive person. I’ve always had a drive and a desire to win, but I think now, being a mom, it’s really about teaching her how to overcome adversity and showing her what hard work looks like.
Overcoming adversity has been a common theme for the nine-time Olympic medalist on her journey towards Tokyo. Amid her pregnancy, Felix went through a contract negotiation with Nike during which she said the company tried to cut her pay nearly 70% and refused to protect her contract if her performances were not up to par after giving birth. Felix is now sponsored by athletic clothing brand Athleta.
It’s such an authentic partnership, she said. I’ve just felt really empowered knowing that I am celebrated not only as an athlete and for what I do on the track, but also as a mom and as someone who advocates for women. Those are things that they really celebrate and they really support me.
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Felix has regularly used her platform, especially in recent years, to advocate for pregnancy and maternity rights in sports. Her public criticism of Nike after the contract dispute led to a congressional hearing, and the company ultimately added a policy to its athletes’ contracts that guarantees pay and bonuses for 18 months around pregnancy. Felix said her daughter motivates her advocacy work just as much as her work on the track.
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Becoming a mom I started to think about my daughter and the fights that she would have, and I don’t want her to be in the same situations that I have been, she said. I just feel like that kind of gave me the last little push that I needed to to really tackle some of this stuff.
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Felix has also had to juggle the challenges of training and parenting while coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. When quarantine measures were first enacted in March 2020, she said she had almost no access to traditional training facilities like a track or weight room. She had to get creative, crafting a gym in her garage and completing workouts on streets or sidewalks.
My daughter would be looking down from upstairs and not understanding why she couldn’t get to me, Felix said. Sometimes, she would want to come down and play with all the training gear, but [my family] has definitely encouraged me. In those moments where I’ve been feeling down, they’ve really uplifted me.
On top of makeshift facilities, Felix was trying to train while keeping her family protected from COVID-19. She partnered with the BD Veritor™ Plus System, a rapid antigen test for COVID-19, to maintain safety standards, and she is also featured in a documentary series titled BD on Location, which showcases the way that athletes and organizations are navigating the return to competition.
Thankfully, things now are good and we’re back on track, but it got interesting for a while, Felix said. I think [the documentary] is shedding light on some of those challenges that we have faced during the pandemic and some of this training that’s really not traditional.
Felix will compete in both the 400 and 200 meters at the U.S. Trials, and although she is a gold medalist in the 200, her best chance to make the American team will be in the 400.