Allyson Felix is coming home for final sprint at Race for Change

Basketball was Allyson Felix’s game. The courtyard was where the shy minister’s daughter could express herself better than ever through words. She treasured her Kobe Bryant jersey and hoop dreams.

She was 5’1″ and slim, but she could jump and ever run, skills she demonstrated for the LA Baptist freshman basketball team. When her father, Paul, and brother, Wes, urged her to try track and field in the spring of 2000, she reluctantly agreed. She showed up to tryouts in long basketball shorts and her favorite Gary Payton Glove sneakers.

“I didn’t know anything about running shoes,” she said.

Fast forward to 2021. Months after she and Wes launched women’s-focused footwear brand Saysh, she wore her company’s custom spikes as she won a brave bronze medal in the 400-meter at the COVID-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics -run won.

“It’s crazy for me just thinking about it, but very cool for me that I’m still doing what I love,” said Felix, who ran leg two of the triumphant US women’s 4×400 relay a day later and her 11th Olympic place medal, the most by an American track and field athlete. “And I get to do it for women. Even cooler.”

The journey that began for Felix in North Hills and has taken him through five Olympic Games and eight World Championships ends on Sunday. After taking gold and bronze medals in the relay at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon to elevate her total record to 20 world medals, it’s fitting that she’s coming home for her final sprint.

The Race for Change, taking place on Skylight Row Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will include a street race, age group competitions and community events, drawing attention to the family- and women-centric concerns that Felix has eloquently taken up on her since Daughter Camryn was born prematurely in 2018. With logistical help from lifestyle brand Athleta, which she sponsored when she left Nike to protest the unfair treatment of female athletes who have been or are considering motherhood, she will step out in the way she chooses had presented.

“I told them, ‘I don’t know if that’s possible, but my dream scenario would be to run in the streets of my hometown. I think that would be the coolest thing ever,” she said recently. “I love road racing and many friends and family have never seen me race in person. And there are no more meetings here. I thought this would be a perfect moment to just celebrate.”

Allyson Felix runs in the women's 4x400 meter relay at the World Athletics Championships July 23.

Allyson Felix runs in the women’s 4×400 meter relay at the World Athletics Championships July 23.

(Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

Felix, 36, is retiring with few regrets. Not that it all ended the way she would have liked: She won just one Olympic gold in her favorite race, the 200m, in London 2012 in the final of the Rio 2016 Olympics, as Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas won one desperate dive at the finish line.

But Felix made sure that every experience enlightened her and made her stronger. She never cheated in competition. She has never betrayed herself or anyone who has acknowledged her integrity and consistency.

“Maybe I could have been more successful at certain things if I hadn’t taken more risks and gotten into some of the tougher stuff. But I think it’s about challenging yourself and while I don’t love the 400, I’m glad I went for it,” she said. “I’m glad I tried something that was really hard for me and outside of my comfort zone.

“If I had to dissect things, there are definitely things that I probably wish would have gone differently, but I’ll say I think everything went the way it was supposed to, and I think so , it got me to where I am. It’s supposed to be me.”

Calm by nature, she learned to advocate for herself and other women after her daughter was born via emergency c-section in 2018 and spent weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit. Felix delivered a powerful testimony before Congress in 2019 about the disproportionate risks of pregnancy faced by black women, a cause that remains important to her.

She would also like childcare and facilities to be made available to female athletes so that they do not have to search for bathrooms or compartments to look after their children during competitions. She hopes to make companies aware of the value of athletes’ endeavors and to convince more women that they can be competitors and mothers and not have to choose one or the other like their sponsors and society did early in their careers seemed to say. No doubt she will be a champion there too.

But it wasn’t easy or instinctive for her to speak up. That changed when her brother Wes, who was a sprinter at USC, assured her that the substance of her message was more important than the volume of her words. “Even if your voice is shaking, you can still use it. There’s still electricity. I was there,” she said.

Allyson Felix smiles after winning bronze in the 4x400m mixed relay at the World Championships July 15.

Allyson Felix smiles after winning bronze in the 4x400m mixed relay at the World Championships July 15.

(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

She recently joined the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, a powerful group. She is a board member of Right to Play, a children-focused international nonprofit, and &Mother, a nonprofit founded by fellow athlete/mother Alysia Montano to support female athletes. She is involved with the Power of She Fund, which works with Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation to provide childcare grants to athletes. She joked that she would give herself a day off on Monday, the first day of her life after competing, before diving into her new world on Tuesday.

She will miss the competition but not the workouts that left her exhausted and vomiting. She knew this year would be her last because she no longer had the heart or hunger to race. “I felt like I wasn’t willing to give what it would cost,” she said.

Cammy, 3 1/2, made an adorable appearance at the World Championships in Eugene a few weeks ago, shouting “Go, Mommy, Go!” as Felix raced. She might have been too young to understand exactly what had happened, but the details didn’t really matter.

“I hope what she takes away is that mum did what she loves. Mama fulfilled a passion,” said Felix. “I hope that’s part of her childhood, seeing her mother work and do what she loves.”

She loved it and we loved watching her. What Felix does next for the following women should be just as successful and compelling.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-08-06/allyson-felix-race-for-change-sprint-charity Allyson Felix is coming home for final sprint at Race for Change

Emma Bowman

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