There’s an unfortunate cultural narrative that suggests that a woman’s career is over after becoming a mother. This is even more prevalent in relation to female athletes, but 11-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix proves that this perspective is BS.
After becoming a mother, Allyson Felix went to Congress to advocate for racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths, beat Usain Bolt for the most gold medals won at the World Championships, and became the most decorated American track and field star of all time. Did I mention that she also left Nike after they cut her pay after becoming a mother? She’s living proof that a woman’s career doesn’t end after having kids, and we love her for it.
Beating Usain Bolt’s Record
Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Felix had nine Olympic medals (three silver and six gold) over the course of four Olympics. She had also been successful in other international competitions like the World Championships. In 2019, she did the unthinkable and beat Usain Bolt's record of 11 gold medals in the World Championships by earning her 12th World Championships gold. This was also her first gold medal after becoming a mother.
She could have retired after the 2019 World Championships as one of the most successful and decorated American female track stars of all time, but she still had something to prove to herself and the world at the 2020 Olympics.
Allyson Felix vs. Nike
Many athletes work with corporations throughout and after their career (*cough* Shaq in every commercial), and one of Felix’s many corporate sponsorships was with Nike. But after she gave birth to her daughter, Camryn, in 2018, Nike offered her a 70% pay cut.
Prior to 2018, Felix was a participant in some of Nike’s female empowerment ads, so it didn’t make sense to Felix that a company that claimed to support women didn’t support mothers. Felix told her story about deciding to step away from Nike in an op-ed for the New York Times, where she wrote, “Despite all my victories, Nike wanted to pay me 70 percent less than before. If that’s what they think I’m worth now, I accept that. What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity. I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth. I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?”
Felix described how she was scared to speak out against Nike. In an interview on the Today Show, she said, "I didn't know what was going to come of it, but the one thing that really gave me the courage was being the mother of a little girl.”
Felix continued, "I didn't want her to have these same battles, you know, 20 years down the line, that I was facing and that so many of my colleagues have faced, so many women before me. I just felt like it was time and no matter how scared I was, I had to step forward and share my own story."
After leaving Nike, Felix started her own shoe and lifestyle brand, Saysh. Felix and her brother founded Saysh because “we didn’t see what we thought the world needed. The world doesn’t need more shoes, but the world does need to see women wholly and meet them right where they are...I used my voice and built this company for you. So that you never have to train at 4:30am while you’re 5 months pregnant to hide your pregnancy from your sponsor. So that you won’t have to fight someone so much bigger than you for a right that should be basic.”
Allyson Felix Dominates 2020 Olympics
It appears that the executives at Nike subscribed to the myth that a woman’s life is over after having a baby. They didn’t think that she would be as dominant in the 2020 Olympics as she was in the past, but she proved them wrong.
Felix brought home two medals, one bronze and one gold. The first was in the women’s 400m final, where she finished third in 49.46 seconds. It was a personal best for Felix and the fastest time for a 35-year-old woman. I think it’s safe to say that motherhood hasn’t slowed her down. This was her tenth Olympic medal, which tied her with American track legend Carl Lewis as the most decorated American track and field athlete in history.
It didn’t take long for Felix to surpass Lewis. The day after tying Lewis for the record, Felix won gold in the women's 4x400 relay alongside fellow Americans Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad, and Athing Mu. Four diverse, unique, and badass women taking home the gold together? It doesn’t get more American than that!
Felix’s 11th and final medal of her Olympic career makes her the most decorated American track and field star in history regardless of gender.
Motherhood Is Her Greatest Accomplishment
Despite her illustrious career, Felix considers becoming a mother to be her greatest accomplishment.
Felix has a rough pregnancy. In November 2018, she went to the doctor for her 32-week checkup to discover that she had a severe case of preeclampsia, which is “a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys.”
Felix was rushed to the hospital and gave birth to her baby girl Camryn via emergency C-section. She was only three pounds, seven ounces, and spent the first month of her life in the NICU. Cami is now a happy and healthy two-year-old.
Felix’s experience with preeclampsia and childbirth inspired her to speak up about the black maternal mortality rate, which shows that black women are far more likely to experience severe complications (including death) in childbirth than any other ethnic group in the United States.
In May 2019, Felix told her story at the House Ways and Means Committee at the U.S. Capitol. She said, “I learned that my story was not so uncommon, there were others like me — just like me. They faced death like me too, and as I started to talk to more of those women and hear about their experiences, I learned that black women are nearly four times more likely to die from childbirth than white mothers are in the United States and that we suffer severe complications twice as often.”
Felix’s traumatic experience has motivated her to become a part of creating a world where her daughter won’t have to worry about dying in childbirth because of her race.
Before competing in the 2020 Olympics, Felix published an open letter to Cami. She said, "Dear Cami, Six gold medals and three silver, yet my greatest accomplishment is you. Do you know what they said after I had you? They said I'd retire, that I was too old to complete, that I couldn't get my body back in shape, but Cami, here I am to prove them wrong. Never, ever underestimate the power of your voice. That is something you've taught me: I went to Congress, Cami, that's an important place, where I advocated for women...I stood up for what is right. Even when your heart is aching, you're angry, exhausted, I pictured you growing up in this world, and fought to make it a better, more just place for you.”
The letter continues, “I've had a lot of titles, but by far, mama is my favorite, and sweet girl, I want more medals. I deeply want you to see me standing on that podium with gold around my neck and know that mommy worked hard for it. Nobody said that it would be easy, but it will be worth it. Your voice has power — don't ever forget that. You helped me find mine, and I will continue to use it. Cami, I love you."
If this letter didn’t bring tears to your eyes, I don’t know what’s wrong with you! Felix’s activism and love for her daughter are further proof that a woman’s career isn’t over when she has a child, and she’s an inspiration to every mother in the world for it.
Despite what Nike presumed, Allyson Felix came back better than ever after becoming a mother. Stories like these prove that a woman’s career isn’t over after she becomes a mother – maybe becoming a mother will inspire her to do even greater things.
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