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Allyson Felix is no newbie to the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 marks her fifth time at the games and she only needs one more appearance on the podium to become the joint most decorated Olympian in US track and field history next to Carl Lewis who has 10 medals.
However, the nine-time Olympic medal winner is not only inspirational on the sporting stage.
Allyson gave birth to her daughter in 2018 but during her pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia, a condition that often impacts women in the second half of their pregnancy or just after having given birth. Mild pre-eclampsia affects up to six per cent of pregnancies whereas severe cases affect around one to two per cent.
Symptoms can be difficult to notice for the condition and should be picked up during antenatal appointments but severe cases that are left untreated can lead to high blood pressure that results in seizures during pregnancy and complications for both mother and baby such as blood clotting disorders and problems with organ function.
Allyson was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at her 32-week scan that had to be acted on quickly.
The next day, she had an emergency C-section and her daughter was only 3lbs 7oz before having to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit to recover.
Allyson couldn’t walk for five weeks but was back training in three months after a traumatic birthing experience. As she learnt more about the condition that had affected her, she also learnt the disparities in maternal mortality including the US has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the developed world as well as the statistics that Black women are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
This led the athlete to speak to the United States House Committee on Ways and Means in May 2019 about what had happened to her. She also petitioned the government to do more to combat the disparities in maternal mortality.
At the hearing, she said: “We need to provide women of color with more support during their pregnancies. 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”.
Since, Allyson has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Hear Her Concerns campaign, raising awareness for the warning signs of pregnancy complications and the places to go to so that other parents can access support. She’s also backed the Better Starts For All initiative, increasing access to high-quality healthcare for all soon-to-be parents.
Not only all of this, in May 2019 she also held Nike accountable in a New York Times Op-ed that accused her sponsor of allegedly unfairly treating her and other pregnant athletes in contracts.
They wanted to pay her 70 per cent less than before and refused to guarantee that they wouldn’t be a financially penalisation if her athletic performances wavered in the months surrounding her daughter’s birth.
Shortly after the piece was published, Nike made a policy change to ensure that pregnant athletes wouldn’t have their pay cut for the 18 months around pregnancy.
Most recently, she announced that she’d be working with her sponsor Athletica and the Women’s Sports Foundation to create the Power of She Fund – a $200,000 (£143,799) grant to support athletes who are also mothers.
Allyson Felix is a role model we all need, fighting for results both on and off the track.
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