TOKYO — Allyson Felix has been in the public eye for all of her adult life. The sprinter turned pro out of high school, still a rare move for American track and field stars, but when you win an Olympic silver medal at 18-years-old, just four years after first joining a track team, running for an NCAA program, even one as storied as the University of Southern California, seems unnecessary.
For much of her career, Felix won plenty but said little; certainly she was involved in charitable endeavors, usually ones involving children, but speaking out wasn't her thing. And that's fine; not everyone is cut out for advocacy, not comfortable being outspoken.
But then November 2018 and the weeks and months that followed happened, and Felix felt she no longer had a choice.
That was when doctors discovered she had severe preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition that causes dangerously high blood pressure and can be fatal. Felix had to undergo an emergency C-section at 32 weeks, she endured her own postpartum complications, and daughter Camryn was in the NICU for a month.
The experience changed Felix. Not just the becoming a mother part — that of course is a life-altering, all-encompassing, usually-exhausting, diaper-filled experience — but the experience of being told she had to undergo major surgery right now or her life was in danger; of learning that Black women are two to six times (depending on where they live) more likely to die of pregnancy complications; of her longtime sponsor, Nike, responding to her pregnancy with a contract renewal offer that was a fraction of what she had been earning, and then discovering she wasn't the only female athlete the sports behemoth had done that to.
And suddenly the woman who had been content to stay in her lane (pun intended) knew she no longer could.
Felix arrived at these Olympics, her fifth and last, as a new CEO, a fierce advocate for women, for mothers, for Black maternal health. And also in pursuit of her 10th Games medal, which would tie her with Carl Lewis as the most decorated American track and field athlete ever.
She won that medal on Friday in the 400-meter final, earning the bronze medal.
Wearing racing spikes that she designed for her new footwear line, Saysh, she ran in the outside lane and finished in 49.46 seconds.
After the trauma her body endured, it has understandably been a difficult comeback
Earlier this week, before her 400m preliminary race, Felix posted a series of videos and pictures from those anxious first weeks, of Camryn sleeping on her chest as Felix slept in a hospital room, of Felix talking to the camera on the day after Camryn's first night at home and Felix was able to be active for the first time since her C-section, walking for 30 minutes, which she said was "tough".
Though she is 35-years-old now, the Olympics being pushed back a year may have benefitted Felix: while she finished sixth at the 2019 U.S. Championships in the 400m and was part of the gold medal 4x400m mixed relay team at the World Championships that year, her times were not where they needed to be for an open 400m against other elite women.
Under the tutelage of the legendary Bobby Kersee, the only coach she's had as a pro, Felix kept working.
On Wednesday, a significant mark: she run under 50 seconds for the first time as a mother, posting 49.89 to finish second in her semifinal heat and move on to the gold medal race.
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