Author’s Note: At the Tokyo Olympics, sprinter Allyson Felix will become the fourth American woman to compete in track & field at five Olympics. She is expected to compete in both the 400m and 4x400m relay (viewing guide here).
Originally published June 19, 2021
At a regular doctor’s checkup in November 2018, Allyson Felix – then 32 weeks pregnant – was told she needed to get to the hospital immediately.
Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist, didn’t know it yet, but she had a severe case of preeclampsia, a condition that can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both mother and baby. Hours after doctors realized the severity of her situation, Felix had an emergency c-section.
Her daughter Cammy – who is now a healthy two-year-old – was born at 3 pounds, 7 ounces and spent her first month in the NICU.
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In May 2019, Felix detailed her childbirth experience in a testimony she gave at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on racial disparities in maternal mortality.
“I learned that my story was not so uncommon, there were others like me — just like me,” Felix testified. “They faced death like me too, and as I started to talk to more of those women and hear about their experiences, I learned that Black women are nearly four times more likely to die from childbirth than white mothers are in the United States and that we suffer severe complications twice as often.”
In the years since, Felix has continued to raise awareness about racial disparities in maternal health care. She has also been a vocal advocate for better maternity protections in athlete contracts.
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Felix discussed that advocacy work in a letter she wrote to her daughter Cammy, which she read aloud for an NBC Olympics profile (video embedded above).
“From the terrifying moments of fighting for my life, to the long days in the NICU, you made me stronger than I ever imagined,” Felix told Cammy while standing on stage at the Ace Hotel Theater in Los Angeles. “I pictured you growing up in this world and fought to make it a better, more just place for you.”
This week at U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, Felix is aiming to make her fifth Olympic team. On Friday, Felix won her heat of the women’s 400m, with Cammy watching from the stands.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC