“We have a lot of work to do,” says Allyson Felix. The Olympian may be retired from competitive running, but that’s not slowing her down. While continuing to advocate for an end to the maternal mortality gap, the mom of 4-(and a half!)-year-old daughter Camryn is the co-founder of Saysh, a performance footwear brand “for and by women” that champions practices like a groundbreaking exchange program allowing people to trade in their shoes if their foot size changes during pregnancy. “A lot of women have said they feel seen,” Felix says of the response to her company’s initiative. “I think it’s something that women didn’t realize was a possibility.”
Expanding possibilities is just what Felix does. Not only is she the most decorated American track and field athlete of all time (with 31 global medals at the Olympics and world championships, and titles as both a world record holder and a master’s world record holder), she famously took on sneaker giant Nike, her previous sponsor, for not providing protections during her pregnancy. Her actions paved the way for significant changes, such as a new Nike sponsor contract clause protecting pregnant people from being fired for not competing. Felix then led an initiative with her new sponsor, Athleta, offering child care grants to others in her field, which expanded from the Olympics to the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships the following year. “[Child care] is something that I hope can be the norm for athletic events,” she says. “I think it’s not just about women, but it’s about families.”
I think it’s safe to say that Felix is a certified bad*ss — and now, this week, she’s debuting “The Felix Runner,” Saysh’s first running sneaker that “celebrates the female form.” What took so long for the brand, launched in 2021, to create a running shoe? “I really just wanted to be able to do it right and give women what they absolutely deserve,” Felix says. “It really took time. We’re doing it differently … to fit the form of the female foot, which is often just not the case with many companies.” Though it’s a shoe designed to meet the running needs of women, it’s also just as great for us enthusiastic walkers, whether it be walking your kids to school or squeezing in a power walk between meetings. (I gave it a run and its comfort is unparalleled.)
I feel the struggle now that it’s not my job to train for five hours a day! I’m like, ‘How have women done this forever?’
Below, she spoke with Romper about her newest initiative, navigating the world of raising a Black daughter, and what brings her the most joy as a mom.
Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs: As Camryn’s mom, do you feel optimistic about the future?
Allyson Felix: In a sense, I do. I think [about] what she gets to see — I mean, our vice president, she looks like her! But it’s definitely not lost on me the hardship that [she will face]. We have a lot of work to do — I think the world will be harder for her as a Black girl, and I want to be able to give her those tools to navigate it. My hope and my dream is that she won’t have limitations as she grows up, as she picks a career, and all these things. But the reality is that she’s going to have her own battles as well, and I really want to be conscious and thoughtful of how I prepare her for those.
TSBJ: How do you inspire a healthy love of fitness in your daughter?
AF: I think it’s just showing her the diversity of women and what it looks like to move your body. And she’s at a really fun stage now. She’s 4-and-a-half, and we’re doing karate, and we’re doing soccer, and just [focusing on] the spirit of joy — and that is not necessarily being competitive but being healthy and showing her that this is fun. We also do affirmations and just try to give her confidence. I really hope that she grows up with that, so she’ll have the tools to navigate this really difficult world.
TSBJ: How has motherhood shifted the way you think about competition? Running?
AF: It’s definitely given me a new purpose. During the couple of years that I was still competing, having my daughter really made me think about just why I was doing everything. I really wanted to show her a great example of what strong looks like, that it can look so many different ways. I had a different motivation than before, when it was all about the medals and winning. Afterwards, it was like, “OK, I want her to see this process of having a goal and striving towards that.” Even now as I have a different relationship with running, I love my daughter to be a part of that process — oftentimes I’ll bring her out to the track, or running in the neighborhood.
TSBJ: Now that you’re not competing, how are you still finding a way to fit exercise into your incredibly busy life?
AF: It is so hard — I feel the struggle now that it’s not my job to train for five hours a day! I’m like, “How have women done this forever?” But something that’s really helped me is I have to put it on my schedule. I have to block time for it, and sometimes it’s a sacrifice. I’m not a morning person, so it’s really hard, but if I can just get an hour to be able to have some time for myself to start my day off and move my body... Sometimes it looks like just being on the treadmill. Sometimes it’s Pilates class, and I’ve been doing tennis lately — I’m trying to do new things. Usually that’s before everyone wakes up or after my daughter’s gone to sleep.
And it’s just like this right now. I always think, like, these are just seasons of life and it’s not always going to be this way.
It’s a really hard thing to think, ‘I want to be here to raise my children.’
TSBJ: Creating a running shoe seemed like the most obvious next thing for you and your company. What propelled you to do it when you did?
AF: A running shoe was what I wanted to do from the beginning, but I really just wanted to be able to do it right and give women what they absolutely deserve. And so it really took time to create that, and so that’s why we’re launching now, because we feel like we’ve got it right… I’m really excited that this is a shoe that can hold up to my standards as an Olympian, but it’s really for the everyday woman being able to do all the things that she does.
TSBJ: In your recent New York Times op-ed, you talk about your pregnancy experience and the reality of the maternal mortality gap — the fact that Black women like us are nearly three times more likely to die than white women because of complications related to childbirth. And how both those things impact your thinking around having another child. Can you talk about what it’s like for you to deal with this reality?
AF: It is really scary. It’s something that not everyone has to think about, but these are the realities for women of color. It’s a really hard thing to think, “I want to be here to raise my children.” But you do have to think through some of these things and these issues. My experience with preeclampsia really opened my eyes and just really gave me a heart for this work. We see tragedy all over the place of women losing their lives or having tragic complications during the birthing process, and we just have to do better from a lot of different angles, from policy change to awareness and training our doctors. It’s an issue that is not going to be solved just by one person or one organization. It’s really coming together and saying that we need to do better for our Black mothers. A lot of women, their pain isn’t heard. It isn’t believed, and that is infuriating, that you can tell a doctor that something doesn’t feel right, something is wrong, and be dismissed. It’s heartbreaking that so many lives are lost, but I am hopeful because a lot of these complications and deaths are preventable, so we can turn it around.
TSBJ: What brings you the most joy as a mom?
AF: Right now what brings me the most joy as a mom is really seeing my daughter’s personality come out. It is just so much fun to see her come to her own, say so many funny things — she’s picking up so much on the world around her. And oftentimes I’m like, “How? Where did you get that from? Where did you learn that?” It just constantly blows me away.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Raising Anti-Racist Kids is a column written by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs focused on education and actionable steps for parents who are committed to raising anti-racist children and cultivating homes rooted in liberation for Black people. To reach Tabitha, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram.