Allyson Felix: More Than a Runner
By: Emily Hur
In April, US Olympian Allyson Felix declared that she will be retiring at the end of the year. In addition to her highly decorated career as a sprinter, she also leaves behind a legacy as an activist and a mother.
Felix is the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history. She has received 11 Olympic medals, including 7 gold. She holds the record of most World Championship medals, and 13 out of 19 of them are gold.
She started her running career at the age of 17. She won second place in the 200-meter sprint at the US trials, securing her spot at her first World Championships. Felix spent the next twenty years collecting medals and breaking records until her final race last Sunday. She won bronze in the 4x400m mixed relay at the World Championships, marking the end of her career.
"It was a night I will cherish. I've had such good memories," she said.
Along with her athletic accomplishments, Felix worked as an activist. She drew from her personal experiences as a black mother and used her fame as an athlete to raise awareness for women’s rights, specifically black maternal rights.
Before she gave birth to her daughter, Camryn, Felix was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a condition that could be fatal to both the mother and the baby. Camryn was born 8 weeks prematurely at 3 lbs. 7 oz in November 2018. She had to spend a month in intensive care.
African-American women in the US are more likely to have pre-eclampsia, but they currently do not receive enough attention from the US healthcare system. Felix’s own pregnancy helped her realize that the system needed to change. She brought up the problem in front of the US Congress in 2019.
"We need to provide women of colour with more support during their pregnancies. There's a level of racial bias within our healthcare system that is troubling and will be difficult to tackle, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't," she explained.
That same year, Nike, her sponsor, wanted to cut her salary by 70% after Camryn’s birth. Felix wrote an opinion piece about this in the New York Times, and Nike changed their policy to accommodate for pregnant athletes.
After leaving Nike, Felix worked with her new sponsor, Athleta, and a non-profit to offer free childcare to parents participating in the 2022 US trials. She also created a new footwear brand, Saysh, that provides free sneakers to mothers whose shoe sizes changed during their pregnancy.
Felix broke boundaries in the athletic world as well as out of it. Her retirement might end her track and field career, but it cannot erase her mark on history or her coming plans as an activist and mother.
"I'm trying to leave the sport better than I found it, trying to support female athletes and women in general and fight for more equality," she said.