Allyson Felix - American Athlete and Activist

Allyson Felix - American Athlete and Activist

Allyson Felix is a renowned and committed American athlete. Considered the greatest sprinter of all time, she has won multiple titles in her career, becoming the most successful female athlete in the world in 2021.

Born in Los Angeles to a pastor father of French Creole descent and a schoolteacher mother, Felix began her sprinting career at the age of 14, when she joined her hometown team, Los Angeles Baptist High School. Nicknamed "chicken legs" by her classmates, due to her very thin legs and her slender figure, nothing predisposed her to become a top athlete. However, she decided to compete in the annual California Intercollegiate Championships, and finished seventh in the 200m run, after a good first lap in 23s90.

In 2012, at the London Olympics, Felix won her first individual gold medal in the 200m. She became the first American woman to win this race since 1988. Four years later, at the Rio Olympics, she won two more gold medals in the relay, bringing her total to six gold medals.

Today, she holds 19 World Championship medals, 13 of which are gold, making her the second most decorated athlete in the history of the event, behind Usain Bolt. She has also won 11 medals at the Olympic Games, including 7 titles.

In 2012, she was named Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, opposite Usain Bolt in the male category.

However, the road to success has not been easy for her. In 2018, she gave birth by emergency C-section to a premature baby girl. She later revealed that she had suffered pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal complication of pregnancy. This traumatic event led her to become a voice for maternal health and to fight for policies that ensure quality care for all pregnant women.

In 2019, then one of the most decorated athletes in track and field history, she revealed that she had left her sponsor since 2010, Nike, after it refused to include a maternity protection clause in her sponsorship contract. Felix then left Nike and signed a new contract with Athleta, a sportswear brand owned by Gap Inc.

"What I was asking for was when a woman has a baby to have time to recover to be able to get back to that top form. And essentially, they told me that I could have time but they weren't ready to give all female athletes the time and they weren't willing to tie anything to pregnancy in the contract. And so, for me, that was a real issue and a sticking point." – Allyson Felix,, 2022

Publicly criticizing Nike for its treatment of female athletes, she said in an op-ed published in the New York Times in May 2019: "I am proud to say that I am a professional athlete and a mother. But Nike tried to force me to make a heartbreaking choice. [...] If Nike can't support my choices as a mother and athlete, who will?"

Following the revelation of the case, Nike announced that it would be revising its maternity protection policies for sponsored female athletes. In a statement, the company said that they "are committed to supporting professional female athletes and recognizing the value they bring to our company and our sports community."

Outside of her athletic career, Allyson Felix is also known for her community involvement. She is notably an ambassador for the nonprofit organization Right to Play, which uses the power of sports to give children the skills and knowledge they need to overcome life's obstacles.

In 2008, she announced that she was part of "Project Believe", a "secret" project of the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency), with fellow athlete Bryan Clay, concerning longitudinal testing of twelve American athletes.

She decided to join this project following the revelations regarding Marion Jones, an athlete of whom she was a fan and who deeply disappointed her after the evidence of her doping.

Faced with several sprinter who have been convicted, at one time or another in their career, for taking illegal products, Felix wants not only to remove any suspicion of cheating against her, but also to restore the image of her sport: "Whatever I can do to prove I'm clean, whatever it takes, waking up or driving at 5 in the morning, I want to do it to show that I'm not taking drugs."

In May 2022, in partnership with her sponsor Athleta and the &Mother group (founded by her teammate and the two-time world champion Alysia Montaño), Felix created an initiative to provide free childcare for athletes, coaches and other staff at the U.S. Championships.

Through its Power of She Fund and the Women's Sports Foundation, Felix and her sponsor also opened a third round of childcare grants, providing female athletes with $10,000 for the childcare expenses necessary for them to train and compete. WSF and Athleta have so far awarded more than $200,000 in grants.

Felix said the burden of childcare costs is "the biggest obstacle" for women who want to continue competing at the highest level. "In track and field, the culture around pregnancy was silence. Athletes would either hide pregnancies to secure new contracts, or their contracts were in place were put on hold almost like they had an injury […]I felt like I was being used in multiple marketing campaigns to tell women and girls that they could do anything when internally I was having such a hardship." – Allyson Felix,, 2022

With her sponsor, Athleta, Felix launched in 2021 her own brand of women's running shoes called Saysh. She had previously collaborated with them to create a women's sportswear line.

She also supports women's causes through this brand with a unique return policy. Indeed, women whose shoe size increases during pregnancy - a common change that can be permanent - can get a new pair of sneakers in their new size for free. "It's just a way really to say we can show up and support women, and they don't have to choose between motherhood and anything else." – Allyson Felix,, 2022

In 2022, she announced her retirement. But she will continue to run, for herself and for her daughter. "I might only have a few more years where I could beat her, but I got to stay ready. I am totally going to continue to train and to enjoy running. It brings me such pleasure and joy." – Allyson Felix,, 2022

Allyson Felix's story highlighted the challenges female athletes face when they become mothers, including loss of income and lack of support from sponsors and sports organizations. Felix also showed the power of the athlete's voice to create positive change in the sports industry.

© 📸 Erik van Leeuwen - GFDL

Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon