When Allyson Felix heard that the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be postponed, she couldn’t help feeling a sense of profound disappointment and loss. “But at the same time, I knew it was a decision that had to be made,” she says. “I knew it was for the health of the athletes and the world in general.”
Despite the letdown, the most decorated American track-and-field athlete maintains a sense of hope, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has cloaked her dream in uncertainty.
“Everyone is experiencing this,” she adds. “We’re all in it together, no matter what industry you’re in. So it’s a mix of emotions, really, and hope that the Olympics aren’t canceled. They’re only postponed for now, so that’s something to look forward to.”
This unflappability has been a touchstone of Felix’s career. Since her first Olympic performance in 2004, the legendary sprinter has experienced an emergency C-section, a harrowing 29 days of having her newborn daughter, Camryn, in the NICU, and a public dispute with former sponsor Nike.
Rather than let these challenges slow her down, however, she has learned to embrace each hurdle as an opportunity for growth.
Inspired by the challenges she’s faced, Felix has become an advocate for numerous causes, including maternity protections for female athletes, the black maternal-mortality crisis, and empowering youth through play.
“I feel like having Camryn really helped me find my voice,” she notes. “I’ve found the courage to use it in some areas where I would’ve shied away before, and I’ve really focused on my experience and things that I’ve gone through.”
Looking back, Felix appreciates how much she’s learned as well as how her perspective has changed. “When I was younger, I didn’t really understand that there are so many important moments of growth in character when you lose or when things aren’t going perfectly,” she says.
Upon further reflection, she adds, “I still have that same desire to do well and to have success — but to me, success looks a lot different now.”
So although the path to Felix’s dream may be unclear for the time being, she’s determined to make the most of each moment. “Back in 2004, I was so focused on the destination and trying to win a medal. Now as I prepare for my fifth Olympic games and trying to make that team, it’s all about the process, the journey, and what I’ve learned along the way.”
Experience Life | As you juggle your training with your other roles and responsibilities, how do you overcome the challenges on hard days?
Allyson Felix | I’m still learning and figuring it out, but what helps me the most is asking for help. That’s not something that comes easy for me — I’m not used to it — but I’ve really been able to rely on my family and understand that I’m not in this alone.
On days when I feel like I’m killing it on the track or in the gym, I sometimes feel like I’m not doing as well at home as a mom and all of that. Other days, it’s the reverse. I think it’s important to understand that there are going to be those moments and that it’s OK. I’ve learned to lean on the people who love me and who are there to help me.
When I’m feeling down, having family and friends who are uplifting and encouraging has helped me see the positive in a lot of situations and scenarios. Whatever space I’m in, I try to look on the bright side of things.
EL | You’ve experienced a lot of changes over the past couple of years — becoming a mom is a pretty big one! What has that taught you?
AF | Oh my gosh, so much. What I notice most of all is how it helps me put things into perspective.
As an athlete, I’m really hard on myself and I can dwell on things for a long time. But being a mom snaps you out of that quickly. You might have a bad race, or a bad competition, but when someone needs their diaper changed or to be fed, you really understand what is important and meaningful to you. I love how it’s taught me to be ready for anything and to enjoy all of the moments along the way.
I can’t wait to share with Cammy what the last couple of years have been like, and why it’s so important to me, and really bring her along on the journey with me.
EL | Could you tell us a little about your work as an activist?
AF | Right now, I’m focusing on the black maternal-mortality crisis. I had the opportunity to go before Congress and share my story last May, and recently I’ve been doing work with March of Dimes to fight for the health of mothers and babies. I’d like to bring more awareness to the issues women of color face surrounding childbirth. It’s an issue that’s not on a lot of people’s radar, and I want to bring a light to the issue and do more work for the cause.
I also sit on the board of Right to Play, which goes into disadvantaged countries and those that have either seen war or are dealing with some sort of hardship, and uses play and physical activity as an opportunity to teach lessons, to teach about dealing with their surroundings, and to teach conflict resolution. I’ve been involved with the organization for a number of years now, and I’ve been able to get in the field and do work with the organization.
EL | You recently entered into a partnership with Athleta. What inspires you about this company in particular?
AF | I really had this authentic connection with this brand. I love its mission of focusing on women and girls and empowering them through sport. I feel like Athleta is in a space where they are supporting women, not just on the surface, but actually through the work they are doing — even with some of the smaller things, like with marketing. I think they put out healthy images of what women look like in all body types.
I hope to further the work with women and young girls as well, which is so important to me now that I have a daughter. I also have a signature line coming out, and being able to explore some of my other passions is exciting.
EL | How has the coronavirus crisis affected your training?
AF | It’s really hard. It makes it challenging when your job is to train and to prepare. We’ve had to get really creative and adapt a lot of things.
I try to do most things around my house. Thankfully, I have a home gym and I’m able to do all of my weightlifting here. And my coach has measured off distances in my neighborhood so that I can run outside of my door. But it’s definitely taken a lot of creativity and it’s not the normal training that I do.
We’re still moving forward, though, and that’s what’s important. Throughout my career I’ve had to deal with all different kinds of adversity. I think that this is just another form — another challenge to overcome. I think I’ll really get to see how dedicated and disciplined I can be, and I’m just trying to stay focused.