Allyson Felix, the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history, was recovering from the birth of her now 3-year-old daughter, Camryn, when her sponsor Nike attempted to cut 70% of her pay in a new contract.
Pressured to return to competition quickly — despite an emergency C-section at 32 weeks for preeclampsia and a NICU stay for her daughter — Felix decided to speak up for herself, even though she was terrified of how she’d come off. According to a new interview with Romper, Felix’s brother told her: Use your voice, even if it shakes.
“It resonated with me because I had so much fear,” the 36-year-old Olympian told Romper, “and I had never been that person that was comfortable speaking out; I was always a private person, so when I thought about sharing what was happening with me, it just seems so far outside of who I was.”
Felix published an op-ed in the New York Times in May 2019 accusing Nike of being unsupportive of pregnant women and new mothers. Backlash reportedly convinced the brand to update its pregnancy policy for athletes — guaranteeing pay and bonuses for a consecutive period of 18 months, beginning eight months prior to an athlete’s due date.
“I realized on the other side of that fear is this incredible freedom,” Felix said of speaking out against the company. “I can have an opinion on things; I can stand up for people whose voice may not be as loud.”
“It doesn’t have to be this perfect scenario to be able to have a loud voice,” she added. “You can be scared just like me and move forward. You can also start small; you don’t have to yell from the rooftops. Sometimes we feel ‘I have to shake everything up to make change or have impact,’ and I don’t think that that’s always necessary.”
The runner ended her seven-year relationship with Nike in July 2019 and signed a multi-year deal with Athleta, creating her own women’s lifestyle brand, Saysh. The business is motherhood-focused, launching a childcare grant program and promising things like a new pair of shoes if your purchase no longer fits during pregnancy.
“To be able to say, ‘You don’t have to choose between motherhood and anything else is a small thing that you can do for women and to be able to show up for them in that way,” Felix said.
Now retired from track and field as of this summer, Felix’s No. 1 priority is her daughter, who’s well-being means everything to the star athlete. She tries to clear a day or a weekend for quality time, and volunteers in Camryn’s classroom every now and then.
“I want to be in her life in the biggest way,” Felix said. “But it is hard to balance it. Sometimes you sacrifice some things, and I think that’s OK. When you’re trying to do something and it’s that important to you, that’s necessary.”
Felix said she struggles to let go of the power when it comes to parenting, but has learned to lean on others for support, including her husband Kenneth Ferguson, whom she’s been with for 20 years.
“I want to do everything myself, but realizing there are people who want to help and who love me. It’s OK to say that I need help,” Felix explained, saying Ferguson steps up when she’s on the road or even when she’s just in need of some rest. “It’s really nice to know that I’m not in this alone. There are people who are helping me accomplish the same goals.”
Those parenting goals? They’re all in place to help Camryn be as “well rounded and confident” as possible.
“That’s the end goal,” she concluded, “so those smaller goals — whether they’re focused on me and my parenting, or if they’re focused on things I’m trying to give her — [need to] all go back to that.”
Camryn is definitely in good hands with a mother who truly gets it.