In sports, there are names that ring bells. Names that have become synonymous with a standard of excellence that is matched by few and surpassed by none. You know them. You’ve worn their jerseys, cheered them on, or dreamed you were them while imitating their moves. They motivate us to strive for greatness in our own lives and to stop at nothing to achieve it.
Allyson Felix is that type of name. Six Olympic gold medals—a feat no other female track and field athlete has accomplished. Tied as the most decorated female Olympian in her sport’s history at nine Olympic medals. A three-time World Champion with the most gold medals of any track and field athlete at 13. Felix has conquered every mountain in her sport, but what she’s done outside of the lines has been even more impressive. When she stood up to Nike in a New York Times op-ed about their poor maternity treatment of her, we stood in awe of her courage. When she vowed to come back after the birth of her daughter, Camryn, by emergency c-section and not only returned but surpassed Usain Bolt while collecting her twelfth and thirteenth gold medals, we were floored by her dedication.
Now, as she heads into, what will be, her final bid for the Olympics, Allyson is looking forward to being a mere mortal. Spending time with her husband and her daughter is first on her list of things to do as she eyes retirement, and she’s partnered with Pantene to start looking at legacy through a different lens in their “What’s Your Legacy” campaign.
21Ninety caught up with the living legend to talk ahead of the Tokyo Olympic trials.
Iman N. Milner: You have conquered so much already. How do you define yourself now?
Allyson Felix: It’s really bigger than just running and the sport. I really look at what I do and being a representation for women. I want them to be able to see that we don’t have to choose between professional life and motherhood—we can do it simultaneously.
IM: Recently, you ran your fastest 400m since 2017 and are going after your fifth Olympic bid. One could say you’re one of the greatest athletes to ever lace-up sneakers. How do you feel about coming close to ending this chapter of your life?
AF: I’ve really been trying to embrace it. I’ve really enjoyed every single year. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but running has given me this incredible life full of beautiful opportunities. Going into this final fifth time around, I am really just trying to take every moment in.
IM: How do you prioritize your general wellbeing while continuing to dominate in your sport?
AF: I really have to schedule it out. Whether that’s feeling overwhelmed and talking to my husband like ‘I need a day’ or my mom coming to get my daughter for a little bit. I am just making sure I can recognize when I need that and knowing that it’s ok to take that space.
IM: Right now, there is a larger conversation about mental health for athletes. How do you make sure to keep that part of you fed?
AF: Recognizing when I feel like I need help or need to talk to someone. As an athlete, oftentimes, you just think you have to keep pushing or working. But you have to take a step back and evaluate things.
IM: In that same vein, now that you won’t have that athletic fire pushing you forward, what are you most looking forward to in your next chapter?
AF: A lot of different things but really family time. Being more present at home and really embracing motherhood. And having more time for issues, I’m really passionate about. Advocating for women and spending more time on the Black maternal health crisis.
IM: Do you think you’ve been able to fully bask in everything you’ve accomplished?
AF: Not yet. I think when I’m done, I’m looking forward to a nice vacation where I can sit back and finally take it all in.
IM: You took a pretty big stand on behalf of women athletes against one of the biggest athletic brands in the world. Why was it important for you to use your voice in that way at that point in your career?
AF: I really thought a lot about my daughter, and I was just like, ‘If I don’t take on this fight, who will?’. It’s been this way for so long, and it’s not ok. I felt really compelled to do it even though it was scary, and I knew there would be consequences but, at the same time, if I didn’t shed a light on it, I wasn’t sure anyone would. I felt like I had to do it.
IM: I think so many women felt endeared to you, even those of us who aren’t in sports, because it was such a courageous thing to do. So, thank you for that.
AF: I appreciate that. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that, but there was a lot of support from women all over. That was just even more eye-opening because there were so many similar experiences in all different walks of life. It was very encouraging.
IM: This campaign that you’re doing with Pantene is all about legacy. Often in sports, legacy is defined by medals or breaking records. How is legacy defined in your eyes, and what would you like yours to be?
AF: Previously, I would have defined my legacy by exactly what you said: the number of medals and records. But as I’ve gotten older and as life has changed, I definitely hope my legacy is advocating for women. I want to be remembered as a person who stood up when I felt that something wasn’t right. So that’s what I hope that it is, and that’s what I love about this campaign because it is celebrating the things away from the track that makes up who I am.
IM: What does quality time look like for you as a wife and mom?
AF: In our life, I talk about the tradition that I had with my mom where I would go into her room, and she would do my hair. Now I have that with Camryn. Even though it seems like something small it’s really special for us and it’s our bonding time. Doing things as a family is really important to me. Being able to all cook together or even go to the park—all those moments are very important to me.
IM: How do you define strength outside of the track?
AF: It’s what’s healthy to you. Strength looks like so many different things. After becoming a mother, I had to redefine that because I had this image of what it was. But if I’m healthy, if I am doing all the things that make me feel strong and feel confident in my own skin—that is strength.
IM: How do you define beauty?
AF: In the same way, honestly, comfortable in your own skin. I think there’s beauty in so many different things.
IM: What’s next for Allyson Felix?
Our Olympic trials are two weeks away. I am making a push for my fifth Olympic team. And then focusing on some issues that I am passionate about. And a really nice vacation!