Allyson Felix Has Broken More Than Usain Bolt’s Record
The Olympic sprinter has also broken the silence around pregnancy and athletics.
Words: mater mea
On September 29, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix won her 12th gold medal at the World Championships. And that means the 33-year-old mom broke one of “World's Fastest Man” Usain Bolt’s records—she is now the record holder for “the most gold medals at the track and field World Championships,” CNN reports.
The fact that Allyson won the gold 10 months after giving birth to her daughter Camryn only adds to her shine. It’s the latest accomplishment in a career full of them: She’s the most decorated Olympic track and field woman athlete. She has competed in the Olympics four times and won nine medals there—six of which are gold.
With this win happening during her first season as a mom, Allyson was quick to let everyone know who this win was for:
“[T]his one is for all my baby mamas🤱🏾” she wrote on Instagram.
Hurdle jumping isn’t her event, but Allyson has definitely done her fair share of just that in her career as an Olympic sprinter and as a mother. In doing so, she has become an advocate for birthing Black mothers and women athletes everywhere.
Like many women, Allyson’s own harrowing birthing experience changed her worldview. But while we all know a friend, sister, aunt, cousin who had a difficult delivery, it’s an experience we very rarely hear from the perspective of athletes.
Because they are expected to be superhuman, we often don’t see their pain.
A routine 32-week checkup became a matter of life or death when Allyson’s doctor discovered she had preeclampsia and needed to go to the hospital right away.
“My blood pressure was way too high. The baby's heart rate was decelerating. This was dangerous for both of us and if it didn't improve soon, I was going to have to deliver her by emergency C-section within 48 hours,” she wrote in an essay about her pregnancy and daughter’s birth story for ESPN.
“It's amazing how quickly your priorities change in moments like this,” she continues. “At that point, the only thing I cared about was that my daughter, Camryn, was OK. I didn't care if I ever ran track again. I was just praying that she would be OK.”
Camryn was born on November 28, 2018 via emergency C-section at 3 lbs 7 ounces, and was 16 inches long. She spent the first month of her life in NICU.
“Every day that I'm [in the NICU] it's scary. The monitors are always beeping. All the parents are on edge,” she wrote. “You learn to be grateful for good days, or even good hours.”
In the essay, written a few weeks after her daughter’s birth, Allyson prepared herself for a version of the future where she was no longer able to compete.
“If I come back and I'm just not the same, if I can't make a fifth Olympic team, I'm gonna know that I fought, that I was determined, and that I gave it my absolute all,” she wrote. “And if it doesn't end up the way I imagined in my head, it'll be OK. I just have to go for it, because that's just simply who we are now.”
But her career was far from over. In fact, she had added a new title—advocate for pregnant and birthing women in and out of sports . Much like how Serena Williams’ near death experience after her emergency C-section has informed her business decisions, Allyson could not be silent about the disparities she saw and experienced.
In May of this year, Allyson Felix testified “at the House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee hearing on overcoming racial disparities and social determinants in the maternal mortality crisis,” NBC reported.
“I thought maternal health was solely about fitness, resources, and care. If that was true, then why was this happening to me?” she testified. (It’s become so well-known that this isn’t the case that ProPublica and NPR’s landmark piece on Black maternal mortality is called “Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying In Pregnancy and Childbirth.)
“I learned that my story was not so uncommon, there were others like me—just like me,” she told the Committee. “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.”
She told the Ways & Means Committee to address the racial bias present in the healthcare system.
“To me there is no more important issue than what we’re talking about today.”
That same month, Allyson gave another testimony along with fellow track and field stars Alysia Montaño (who many know for running the 800m when she was 34 weeks pregnant), Kara Goucher, and Phoebe Wright. This time, she was calling out her former sponsor Nike. When renegotiating her contract after having her daughter, the corporation wanted to pay her 70% less, “despite all my victories,” she wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times.
Along with that, the company declined to offer protections around maternity. Allyson asked for maternity protections not because she was planning to have another child soon, but because “it’s the right thing to do, if not for myself, then for people who come after me,” she told The Times.
After adding her voice to the protest, Nike quickly changed their position, and “said it would waive performance-pay reductions for 12 months for athletes ‘who decide to have a baby,’” The Times reported.
So yes, Allyson has broken Usain Bolt’s record. She’s going to her fifth Olympics in 2020. And she became the first athlete sponsored by Athleta.
But perhaps most importantly she’s broken the stigma that becoming a mother can end an athlete’s career, and the silence long expected of women athletes. Because, as she said in her Op-Ed, “You can’t change anything with silence.”