Allyson Felix Felt 'Invisible' During Pregnancy — Now, She Wants to Help Women Celebrate Their Wins

The five-time Olympian opens up about feeling invisible during her pregnancy and how she's embracing the spotlight today.

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For many people, pregnancy is a time of eager anticipation and excitement to share the news with friends and family. But during the first few months of pregnancy with her now-three-year-old daughter, professional track and field star Allyson Felix only trained before sunrise to avoid being seen.

"I was hiding my pregnancy and training where no one could see me," says the five-time Olympian. "I spent a lot of time at home. And this time that should have been really celebrated ended up being really isolating and really lonely."

Unfortunately, Felix's pregnancy experience was the norm at the time among female athletes in her sport. But today, she sees more mothers in track and field earning recognition — a change that's partially due to Felix's own commitment to speaking out against gender inequality.

"[Back then,] it was really the culture of track and field," she tells Shape. "I had been professional since I was a teenager, and I had seen women hide their pregnancies because they wouldn't have been supported through [pregnancy]. Either their contracts would be paused, or they wouldn't be able to secure new contracts."

Fearing that she'd face the same repercussions, Felix delayed disclosing her pregnancy — especially as she negotiated a contract renewal with her sponsor, Nike (which Felix wrote about in a pivotal op-ed for The New York Times in 2019). Later, as she held her newborn daughter Camryn in her nursery, Felix realized that she shouldn't have to hide or downplay her work — as a mother or as an athlete.

"I was sitting in her nursery, thinking about this world she was going to grow up in," recalls Felix. "I felt like I'd accomplished so many goals — I'd already been to four Olympics, I had all the medals, all those so-called accomplishments. But once I decided to start a family, I didn't think the struggle would be so hard."

That's when Felix decided it was time to get loud.

"My a-ha moment was looking at [my daughter] and saying, 'I have to speak my truth,'" she says. "I have to share this struggle that I've been through, so that she and her generation don't have the same fight."

That realization is part of the inspiration behind her latest shoe launch for Saysh, the footwear brand Felix co-founded with her brother. With a leather upper and silk laces, the Saysh Two is a premium shoe that's meant to attract attention, says Felix.

"To me, [the Saysh Two] really showcases how I found my voice and the idea that a lot of the work women do is invisible," she explains. "We really want to celebrate and see women."

The sibling-run company was built from Felix's own frustrations with footwear for female athletes. "I was at a place where I wasn't feeling valued, and I felt like my worth wasn't being seen," she says. "I was preparing for my fifth Olympic Games, and I didn't have a footwear sponsor, so my brother and I decided to do it ourselves."

Notably, up until that point, brands weren't designing athletic shoes with women's feet specifically in mind. Instead, women's shoes were being made from a mold of a man's foot. With Saysh, Felix and her brother wanted to push the industry to a higher standard by highlighting — and celebrating — women's achievements.

While she may be a role model to other women who feel invisible, it hasn't always been easy for Felix to embrace the spotlight. "At the beginning, it was terrifying, just because it was so outside of my comfort zone and didn't come naturally to me," she says. "But after I wrote the op-ed [for The New York Times], there was a flood [of support] pouring in from other women who had similar experiences. I realized on the other side of all this fear was freedom, and it really did feel freeing."

Allyson Felix, A professional track and field athlete, five-time olympian, and Co-founder of Saysh, ON SPEAKING OUT AGAINST GENDER INEQUALITY

I realized on the other side of all this fear was freedom.

— Allyson Felix, A professional track and field athlete, five-time olympian, and Co-founder of Saysh, ON SPEAKING OUT AGAINST GENDER INEQUALITY

Today, Felix is learning to know her value, rather than letting others assign a price to her work. And along the way, she's finding pride in sharing her wins, both big and small.

"Even in the past year, I've been able to really embrace some of my accomplishments and not shy away from them," says Felix. "I'm sharing those moments with my daughter and...just trying to use my voice more, whether it's advocating for child care or mom athletes."

Her hope? That other women are inspired by the Saysh Two and her fight against gender inequality to call attention to their own hard work.

"I would really encourage [other women] to start really celebrating their wins, even if it's in a small way," says Felix. "You don't have to yell it from the rooftops, but there is something about honoring the hard work that we do. It doesn't need to be invisible. We should be proud of it, and it's about really taking the time and space to do that in some capacity."

And as for one of her own recent wins, Felix explains why the launch of this second shoe is so meaningful.

"My brother and I started this company, and we're from the heart of L.A.," she shares. "We didn't really see the representation of people who look like us doing things like this. For me, it's massive — beyond my wildest dreams...There [are] still so many things we want to do, but we're definitely taking the moment to celebrate this."

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