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Allyson Felix is the most decorated American track and field athlete in history. She has 11 Olympic medals, more than Carl Lewis (and Jamaican Usain Bolt).
And she will run some of the last races of her professional career over the next few weeks, dedicating her final season to female athletes like her – especially mothers. Felix has spent the past few years advocating for the maternal health of black women. She has worked to ensure mothers have childcare support at competitions.
“I felt like I had to win all the medals, do everything, before I even thought about starting a family, and that’s something I don’t want my daughter to feel,” she said. at NPR’s Morning Edition.
This week, she is launching an initiative with her sponsor Athleta and the non-profit group &Mother to provide free childcare to athletes, coaches and staff at the U.S. Athletics Championships. Felix Team USA teammate and two-time world champion Alysia Montaño co-founded &Mother.
Felix, Athleta – through her Power of She fund – and the Women’s Sports Foundation also opened a third round of childcare grants, offering female athletes $10,000 towards necessary childcare costs. so they can train and compete. The WSF and Athleta have so far awarded more than $200,000 for these grants.
The runner said the burden of childcare costs is “the biggest barrier” to women continuing to compete at a high level.
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Felix began her advocacy journey after becoming a mother in 2018. When she was 32 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition. She had to undergo an emergency caesarean and her daughter spent the first month of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit.
“In athletics, the culture around pregnancy was silence. Athletes either hid their pregnancies to get new contracts, or their contracts were up and on hold almost like they had an injury,” he said. she declared.
Felix spoke out against Nike when the company, her sponsor at the time, refused to pay her while she was on maternity leave. This protest has led to changes in the maternity policy for athletes, not only at Nike, but also at other sportswear companies.
“I felt like I was being used in multiple marketing campaigns to tell women and girls they could do anything when internally I was having such a hard time,” Felix explained.
“What I was asking was when a woman has a baby to have time to recover so she can get back to that optimal shape. And basically they told me I could have time but they weren’t ready. to give all the women athletes the time and they weren’t willing to tie anything to pregnancy in the contract, and so for me that was a real issue and a sticking point.
The Nike representatives she dealt with at the time were men. “I just think how this situation would have been different if there were women at the table,” Felix said.
The athlete has also supported women through his sneaker brand, Saysh. The company has a unique return policy. Women who go up in shoe size during pregnancy — a common change that can be permanent — can get a new pair of sneakers in their new shoe size for free.
“It’s just a way of really… saying we can come forward and support women, and they don’t have to choose between motherhood and something else,” Felix said.
At the end of this season, she plans to retire. Her last professional races are expected to be the US Championships this week, June 23-26, and if she qualifies she will then compete at the World Championships in July. Both take place in Eugene, Oregon.
But she will continue to run, for herself and for her daughter too.
“I might only have a few more years to beat her, but I have to stay ready,” Felix said.
“I will totally continue to train and enjoy running. It gives me so much pleasure and joy.”