Allyson Felix isn’t done yet.
When she left the track at the 2021 Tokyo Games, she had just won her 11th career medal, passing Carl Lewis to become the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history.
Félix, 36, had proven absolutely everything there was to prove. That her words could lead to widespread protections for pregnant athletes. That she could return to the Olympic podium after giving birth to her daughter, Camryn, in an emergency C-section at 32 weeks. That she could win those medals wearing her own brand shoes.
After Tokyo, it would surely have made sense to hang up his pointe shoes, to spend the next few decades soaking up his accomplishments.
But it’s Allyson Felix.
There was something left, more to celebrate, a few more 400-meter victory laps to run. She announced her intentions in April on social media. “I want to say goodbye and thank you to the sport and the people who have helped shape me the only way I know how – with one last run,” she wrote.
This weekend she will start that celebration in earnest with the U.S. Outdoor National Championships, followed, if all goes according to plan, by the World Championships, to be held in July in Oregon, marking the first time that the competition will take place in the United States A proper final season, said his coach, Bob Kersee.
On Wednesday morning, Felix announced his biggest off-track engagement to date. She is now the owner and board member of Voice in Sport, an advocacy and mentorship company founded by Stef Strack that connects young female athletes with mentors who practice professional sports and mental health experts, in nutrition and sports science.
“We’ve both tried to change things within the current systems, some with success and some with failure,” said Strack, a former Nike executive. “And we connected around this idea that it’s time to create the future we want to see for our girls.”
In an interview with The New York Times ahead of her final National and World Championship races, Felix explained how she decided to step away from competition, how she discovered the power of her platform, and what kind of legacy she hopes for. let.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you decide to do one more season after winning two more Olympic medals at the Tokyo Games? How was the decision process?
It was actually harder than I thought. I knew it was my last Olympics, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another season. A lot of people were like, “Oh, it’s going to be great to finish on home soil in Oregon. And it looked really cool, but I was exhausted from the year before and I didn’t know if I had that in me. I had never had this feeling before. I didn’t know if I just had the fight in me.
But I was talking with my coach and he was like, ‘I really think you should do like one last tour and just have fun.’
Can you have fun with it? Are you able to turn down competitive training when watching the line?
I’ve never really slowed down before. I’ve always been so focused on the goal, whatever the goal is for this year. And I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to enjoy and enjoy – to enjoy the journey and enjoy the competition for what it is and not have the pleasure of being tied to the fact that I win or I lose. So that part is just a very different experience for me. It was very tricky. I’m just trying to keep reminding myself not to lose focus to enjoy this moment because that’s it.
Off the track, you’ve become a strong advocate for female athletes and gender equality. But you said it was a journey to get there, to feel comfortable with your voice and your platform. How did you start expressing yourself?
I never got to a place where I felt good. I was really, really scared. I had that moment while I was sitting in my daughter’s nursery, we had just gotten home from NICU, and I was going back and forth talking and doing the op-ed.
I think having a daughter, just having the crazy experience of being born, sitting there watching her, it was kind of that kind of thing where it was like, I feel like I have to do this. Whatever the consequences, I’m just going to move on because I deeply believe it’s the right thing to do.
Your New York Times opinion piece, which details the lack of maternity protections for new parents, was released in May 2019. Nike changed its policies in August, and countless sports companies created new maternity policies. Did you expect this kind of widespread change and praise from other athletes?
I was doing what I had to and had to do. I’ve had several moments since, where I’ll be in a race and then someone I’m competing against comes up to me and says thank you and details a story or something. And that blows my mind because I’m like, wow, I never thought things would change so quickly. I never thought I would have these moments, although I hoped it would be for the women who came, I didn’t think they would tell me anything about it.
In the years since, you’ve signed partnerships and deals with a handful of companies, and launched your own, Saysh. How do you decide who you work with now?
After all with Nike, I just felt like I was only going to do things that really made sense. I wanted to be really thoughtful about everything. At this point, if it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s just not something I care about. It certainly took me a long time and a lot of learning to get here, but that’s where I’m at right now.
I understand the power of my platform and the power of my voice, and I want to use it and enjoy it and be really responsible for the things I say.
One of your biggest new partnerships – and time commitments – was announced this morning, with your ownership of voice in sport. How did you decide to join the organization in such a big way?
I want our young girls to be healthier and have the resources to focus on their mental health and nutrition in healthy ways. I think of myself growing up, like if I had access to something like this, I would have been so excited. I think my mom would have been so excited because I think a lot of parents want to get their child on the right track and it can be really confusing and difficult. And I think that will really change things.
Now more than ever, we see that young people want to have an impact, they want their voices heard and they want to take action. And now I imagine having a lot more time to be involved as a mentor and as a board member.
Tell us a bit about the mentorship that has helped you throughout your career.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was my mentor for most of my career, and it really had a significant impact on my life. She’s my coach’s wife and I think she started mentoring me when I was about 19. Obviously I looked up to her from an athletic perspective, but to build a relationship with her and see that she cared about me – and not just what I was doing on the track but as a person – it just resonated and stuck with me.
She saw me evolve from being a very shy girl to seeing me in front of Congress. Every step of the way, I can count on Jackie. I can pick up the phone and I can call him. I remember when I was going through the whole pregnancy and Nike and all that, I’d call her a couple of times and just be like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on’, and she was always, always there for me.
She taught me to do this for someone else.
The word “legacy” is often used when someone like you leaves the track. What do you want your legacy to be?
I always thought I’d be like, “Oh, these records or these Olympics or this,” and the last two years have completely changed that. I hope it’s trying to change things, leaving things better than when I arrived, and really having a heart for people.
I think that’s what it boils down to, trying to speak for those whose voice isn’t as loud. It’s what I’m most proud of, it’s what makes the most sense and, in the end, it’s the thing that matters most.