Allyson Felix, Athleta to Offer Free Childcare at Track Meets

Allyson Felix, who at Tokyo Olympics in 2021 became the most decorated woman in track and field history with 11 medals—seven of them gold—is returning for one last season of racing, for one reason: to start a new childcare initiative in track and field that could help future generations run for as long as she has.

On Tuesday, Felix and her primary sponsor, Athleta, announced that they are partnering with a non-profit organization, &Mother, to provide free childcare for athletes, coaches, and other participants at the 2022 U.S. National Championships in Eugene, Ore., which run from June 23-26. Vivvi will offer programming for children of all ages at a hotel ballroom. This includes ice cube painting, food coloring and playdough making for toddlers and older kids. Felix, along with the Women’s Sports Foundation and Athleta’s Power of She Fund, will also open up their next round of $10,000 childcare grants to qualified athletes: Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation have already awarded $200,000 in grants to elite athletes since last year: among the recipients is Elana Myers Taylor, the Olympic bobsledder who gave birth to her son Nico in 2020. Myers Taylor was the highest-respected Black Winter Olympics athlete, winning two additional medals at 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Learn more: Allyson Felix Could Be Mother. She Wouldn’t Let It

Felix, who had her daughter Camryn (2018) in 2018, hopes this childcare free model will be a standard for track and field. That’s the one reason why I felt like I wanted to come back and run this season,” says Felix, 36. “It’s that important to me.”

This announcement marks the next phase of Felix’s evolution as an athlete advocate. Felix was a witness on Capitol Hill in 2019 about the disparities in maternal death rates. She suffered from severe preeclampsia, and had to overcome life-threatening complications while pregnant and giving birth. “We need to provide women of color with more support during their pregnancies,” Felix told the House Ways and Means Committee. “Research shows that racial bias in our maternal health care system includes things like providers spending less time with Black mothers, underestimating the pain of their Black patients, ignoring symptoms and dismissing complaints.” That same year Felix left Nike, her longtime sponsor, after a public dispute over payments to pregnant athletes. Nike changed its policy and now offers payment protections to pregnant women and mothers. Felix took control of her legacy and her career one year ago when she launched Saysh, her footwear and apparel line. Wearing Saysh spikes, Felix was awarded the Tokyo Games gold medal and the bronze medal. A Series A round of investment totaling $8 million was closed by the company. Participants included Athleta (a Gap Inc brand). Gap has now purchased a 2% stake in Saysh.

Learn more Two years after leaving Nike, Allyson Felix launches her own shoe company

Felix was unsure whether she would return to the sport of running following the Tokyo Olympics. Last fall, however, she spoke to Billie Jean King, who encouraged her to pursue a new childcare initiative for her sport: if it’s successful, it could spread to other sports and industries. Felix thought back a decade to the Arkansas track meet where her training partner had difficulty finding proper care for her daughter. “During the race, she would pass off her daughter to athletes and different people on the staff, and I remember when we watched the race back on TV, you could hear her daughter crying,” says Felix. Camryn was her first child, and she brought her from one meet to the next. Felix was able to order a hotel room and wash her bottles, knowing that it would be a blessing for her. But what about other track and field athletes who couldn’t? “If there was something in place where we could just drop her off, that would be less stressful,” she says.

Felix recalls having a conversation about her past Olympian experiences. She said that she would have considered another attempt at the Games had she received more support for childcare. Although it seemed like an insignificant change at track meets, the impact on careers could be huge. With more assistance, mothers could be able to continue competing and maximize their athletic potential. “How many athletes can come and get a hotel room, separate from what’s provided?” says Felix. “Who can bring a family member? To me, that’s like a huge barrier and burden and reason why women drop out and just say like, This is not going to happen. It’s one less thing to have on your plate. One less thing to think about.”

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