Just ten months after undergoing an emergency cesarean section, sprinter Allyson Felix made history when she toppled Usain Bolt’s record for winning the most world championship gold medals. When she won her record-breaking 12th and 13th medals at the world track and field championships in Doha, Qatar, her daughter Camryn was there to watch.
The morning she broke Bolt’s record, Felix said she “didn’t have any” thoughts that she’d be able to do it.
“You know, that wasn’t on my mind,” she said. “For me, this year was really about overcoming, and that’s what was on my mind.”
When she did break the record, she added, she was overwhelmed by the support she received. “I was just like, ‘wow.’ I didn’t expect it,” she said. “And it was just amazing, the amount of support that I got. And also just reassuring that I’m on my path back.”
Part of the win, she said, was having her daughter watch. “I want to be a good role model to her, and, you know, this year was all about fighting, fighting so much, and I eventually want to tell her the story of all that.”
But Felix’s path to victory wasn’t easy: just 10 months prior, she underwent an emergency C-section and gave birth to her daughter two months early. Camryn, who Felix said only weighed three pounds at the time, then spent 29 days in the NICU.
“It’s such a heavy place,” she said. “There’s so much going on, so much doubt and uncertainty.”
“It was a really scary situation,” she added. “And we really weren’t sure, you know, which way things were going to go.”
“How did you know even that ten months after an emergency C-section that you were ready to get back on the track?” asked “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. “Seems your body would still be out of whack.”
“It still is,” Felix said with a laugh. “I’m still getting there, a ways to go. But, you know, really just talking to my doctors about this new body that I have. When I was cleared to get back out there, I started slowly. It was a gradual process. I started walking and eventually made my way back.”
“It’s very humbling,” she added. “Things that once came easy to me were now very difficult.”
This isn’t the first time Felix has been in the headlines. This May, she published an op-ed in the New York Times decrying her sponsor Nike for not offering enough maternity protections for its athletes.
“My daughter really helped me to find my voice,” she said. “You know, to speak out on these issues that I normally wouldn’t have. And really to try to create some change. So she’s been my motivation.”
Nike eventually changed the language in its contracts. That satisfied Felix, who said she felt like Nike “did the right thing,” although she felt “disappointed that I had to fight so hard in 2019, that this is still an issue.”
She said there’s still a lot more to be done, and she wants companies to understand that “once you have a baby, your career’s not over. You know, that you can have a flourishing career on the track or wherever it is, and that there’s still more left to give. That you shouldn’t be penalized for that.”
“This is an issue that everyone is affected by,” she added. “And I tackled it in my industry, but I think that’s just really the starting point. That’s what I want to leave behind: changes for the next generation and for my daughter.”