Allyson Felix has a lot to be proud of.
To add to the nine Olympic medals around her neck - six of them golds - she now has a world record twelve World Championship gold medals. With this achievement, she breaks Usain Bolt’s record for most World Championship gold medals.
Despite surpassing Bolt in medal count, she stays humble: “This is a different event, so I don’t really look at it in that way,” she told NBC.
But her success at the Championships also came less than a year after an extremely difficult pregnancy. Felix had severe preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy condition that can cause organ failure and endangers both mother and child. She had to have an emergency C-section a full month before her due date, and her daughter spent 29 days in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
Unfortunately, because she is a professional athlete, her pregnancy was even more stressful because of what it meant for her career. Felix, along with fellow championship runners Alysia Montaño, Kara Goucher, and Phoebe Wright, came together to publicly criticize Nike for “punishing” women athletes who choose to have children.
“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete… there’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant,” recalled Wright. Montaño revealed that she had to “fight with her sponsor to keep her paycheck.”
“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… Nike declined,” explained Felix in her own New York Times essay.
But Felix isn’t mired in the past. She’s looking forward. She has a new daughter - Camryn - and a new sponsor, Athleta. She’s outspoken about how the sponsorship differs from Nike’s: “It is focused on me as a whole—as an athlete, as a mom, and as an activist and just to be supported in that way is amazing."
And she’s not done speaking out. Felix joins other prominent Black women, like Serena Williams and Beyoncé, who are raising awareness of health disparities affecting Black women. Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women, but no one is clear on exactly why.
Felix spoke to Congress about the issue and hopes her new sponsorship with Athleta will help her to continue being an advocate for Black women’s maternal health. She also detailed her struggle, and triumph, at length in a recent SELF Magazine cover story.
With the Olympics on the horizon, Felix believes she can be an elite athlete, mother, and activist, and has an empowering message for women: “You can have it all. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't.”