NEW YORK (Reuters) - With a possible fifth Olympics in her sights, Allyson Felix faces a year unlike any other - yet the goal in many ways is the same, especially as an athlete.
In the roughly 15 months since giving birth, Felix carved out a new role on the track and off it, advocating for better benefits for working mothers and maintaining her competitive edge as she looks to add to her long list of accomplishments.
The 34-year-old six-time Olympic champion will be the biggest name at the NYRR Millrose Games on Saturday at the Armory in New York, as the most decorated American track and field athlete.
But life could hardly be more different than it was when she competed in her first Olympics 16 years ago.
“I feel a greater sense of responsibility now,” Felix told Reuters. “Of course, qualifying and going after gold medals is still on the top of my list but I also feel this opportunity to show my daughter so many things, show other girls a lot and to really just stand by a lot of my values.”
After giving birth in November 2018, Felix returned to competition last year and ran in the United States’ record-breaking 4x400 metres mixed relay at the world championships and said that consistency in training has been essential.
“With last year being a year coming back from pregnancy and all of that, it’s not my usual buildup,” said Felix, whose daughter, Camryn, was added to her entourage on the road for competition and training sessions.
“(I’m) just trying to be really smart about everything and being patient and sticking to the plan – as an athlete that’s always difficult.”
But the challenges of pregnancy went beyond the physical: In May last year, Felix penned an opinion piece in the New York Times in which she said she faced potential pay cuts from sponsors including Nike for having children.
“It was outside of my comfort zone, for sure, to talk about a super personal situation,” she explained. “But I do feel like the reception from women across all industries has been really encouraging.”
The 16-time world championship medal-winner also applauded middle-distance runner Mary Cain for speaking out against coach Alberto Salazar for alleged abusive behaviour at the Nike Oregon Project.
“It just speaks to the power of the collective and what’s happening right now with women and sports and her just feeling comfortable to be able to come out and to speak her truth,” Felix said. “It definitely was a wakeup call to a lot of other people.”
Her post-pregnancy life has also led to a new chapter in her working relationship with longtime coach Bob Kersee, who has trained many of the world’s elite athletes including wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“He’s brought athletes back after they’ve had children and so for him, he’s done it. For me, it’s completely new,” said Felix. “I think the relationship definitely has shifted. Communication as far as what I’m feeling, what my body feels like.”
Felix plans to compete in the 200-metres and 400-metres this year, with the U.S. Olympic trials set for June.
“Each race is a stepping stone,” said Felix. “(I’m) just looking to get my legs turning over and getting back into competitive situations.
“It’s kind of just, pieces of the puzzle.”
Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Christian Radnedge