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By Tom Reynolds
BBC Sport in Doha
Getting the most prosperous athlete in World Championships history as she did Doha – would once have been all-consuming for Allyson Felix. The last 12 months have changed her previous step.
With a baby has given birth to the activist. Felix is no longer a ready participant in the”culture of silence” around maternity rights in elite athletics. She has found her voice.
Hence the 3 words which dominate her website’s homepage:
Athlete. Mother. Activist.
Felix the mother is currently running late. We match on the 42nd floor of her hotel overlooking the Gulf.
With the World Athletics Championships in town, these plush surroundings are perfect for a sprint champion, although maybe not for daughter Camryn it seems. Her entire body clock has to adjust to the Middle East and as a result 33, Felix, has been up all night.
It is not a new experience for somebody who spent most of December sleeping in a seat in a children’s intensive care unit.
Camryn was born on 28 November 2018, weighing only 3lbs 7oz. Felix had gone into hospital for a regular checkup at 32 weeks only to be told that her and her baby were in mortal danger.
Felix was suffering from pre-eclampsia – a possibly life-threatening condition for both mother and baby. While the heart-rate of Camryn decelerated her blood pressure had been rising.
And 10 hours Felix gave birth by emergency Caesarean to Camryn.
Ten months and one day after, Felix secured a record-breaking 12th World Championships gold medal in the 4x400m mixed relay in Doha, exceeding Usain Bolt. On the final day of Sunday golden number 13 was added by her because the women’s 4x400m relay was won by USA.
“Last Christmas if I had been in the hospital that I couldn’t have believed at all that I’d be in Doha winning awards,” she says. “This instant that was supposed to be this happy was happy, but it was really scary and uncertain”
Out of this doubt Felix found purpose. Through a commitment to her daughter in the here and saw her spend each waking moment from the intensive care unit. However, in addition, she began a campaign of activism.
May saw the generally shy Felix address a House Ways and Means Committee in the US Congress, highlighting the issue of maternal mortality among black ladies. In the USA, black girls are almost four times more likely to die during childbirth and less likely to suffer complications.
Presenting herself “Camryn’s Mother”, Felix started her address with the words:”I want to explain the story of those two most frightening times of my entire life .” Looking back now it is less sore.
She says:”Once I was in the hospital, then it had been such a frightening situation. That I was in that circumstance and I feel like I am someone who is jobless and was conscious but not educated. And if I am not educated are a whole good deal of girls that are educated as well. Talking to Congress needed to occur so as to save lives. It is far bigger than sport.”
Felix took over maternity rights for both athletes on sportswear superpower Nike. She had been involved while coping with her life. Nike needed to pay Felix”70 percent less than before”, which she said at the time she had been willing to accept.
“What I’m unwilling to accept is your enduring status quo around pregnancy,” she wrote in a strong New York Times article published in May. “I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I would not be penalized if I didn’t work at my best at the weeks surrounding childbirth. I wished to set a fresh standard. If all these protections couldn’t be, secured by me , one of Nike athletes, who could? Nike declined.”
Felix received messages of support in women across the range for speaking out, of this working world. And while athletes shared their stories of discrimination, her inspiration was nearer to home.
“I continually thought of Camryn,” she says.
“Ever since I was a teen growing up in the game, quiet is what I watched. Whether it was other ladies or mates, it might be [kept ] . It was only after they had secured a contract they’d make their pregnancy people.
“I’d found it time and time again so that it got to the point at which I didn’t even question it, I just thought:’Oh, that is how things are finished.’ Until I discovered myself. And then I thought:’This isn’t the way and this is not perfect.’
“Considering Camryn rising up, I was just always thinking I wanted it to be different for her”
It will be. In May, Nike announced changes to its maternity contracts that ensure that female athletes”will no longer be financially penalised for using a child”.
“Our voices have electricity,” has been Felix’s easy reaction. A move away from Nike to develop into the face of Gap’s new sportswear new Athleta and that, announced in July.
Felix has confessed she was scared to even mention using a baby. Can she believe the transformation of their last ten months?
“I can’t. It is really mad but at precisely exactly the identical time I am quite happy I’ve made it here,” she says.
“I hope that we’ve seen a bit of shift and that women can decide when they would like to start a family. Should they decide to wait if they opt to get a family or that’s great that is also wonderful. But that is about them deciding what is right and not because any of that or of any demands of a host or any monetary penalty.
“To me it’s so much bigger than field and track. That’s my passion and I really like the game but I really like that it has provided me a platform. That is where I find the most significance. I could have imagined it but I’m sure glad it’s happened.”
Just saying the phrase”activist” now brings a smile to the American’s face.
“That has become the area that I have seen the most development,” Felix says. “Earlier I was definitely worried about just what the reaction might be on my own opinion. The backlash or what the impacts would be.
“But we are discussing another generation. I really don’t want anyone to have to go that I went through. When I consider the word legacy those are what that I want to modify and people are for. And sometimes you have just got to be in a difficult situation or position to make some progress”
Life as a new mother has ensured the log of this season has more gaps than she might have imagined, although felix has always been a huge fan of keeping training diaries during her career. Felix should be proud of her achievements – on and off.
“I’m usually very hard on myself and that I am,” she states. “But I believe this year has been very hard for me and I am proud of myself. I am still quite critical of the athlete facet as I feel like it is all coming very slowly. But when I am ready to look back and appreciate that my health was in question not too long ago then I just have to be grateful.”
Grateful as an athlete – together with six golds as well as counting. Grateful as a mother – with a healthy child. Grateful as a activist – using a voice she has every intention of using.
Not thankful to be asked to position her trio of responsibilities.
“I believe that is a hopeless question,” she states. “Mother I would have to rank as number one for certain. As a mom you figure things outthere. You don’t have any option because somebody is depending on you. That piece is ready.
“And then I feel as if athlete and activist are arriving hand in hand. Athlete is my job but I feel like activist is my own responsibility. And a privilege too. Any opportunity I have to speak out I will.”
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