Allyson Felix is the most decorated American female track-and-field Olympian of all time, but she told TODAY that going head-to-head with former sponsor Nike over postpartum pay for female athletes "completely terrified" her.
The 35-year-old athlete, who will make her fifth Olympic debut in Tokyo later this week, said motherhood inspired her decision to speak out.
"I didn't know what was going to come of it, but the one thing that really gave me the courage was being the mother of a little girl," Felix, mom to Camryn, 2, said in an interview with TODAY co-host Savannah Guthrie.
Before getting pregnant, Felix feared motherhood meant risking her career, and she has been vocal about her treatment by her former sponsor, Nike.
Felix wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2019, revealing that Nike said it would pay her 70% less than she earned before she became a mom, despite her accomplishments, and also that the company refused to guarantee she wouldn’t be punished if she didn't perform up to her previous levels in the months around childbirth. "If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?" she asked in the op-ed. In response, the company announced a new maternity policy that guaranteed an athlete’s pay and bonuses for 18 months surrounding pregnancy.
Felix shared that despite her fears, using her voice meant setting a precedent not just for Camryn, but future female athletes.
"I didn't want her to have these same battles, you know, twenty years down the line, that I was facing and that so many of my colleagues have faced, so many women before me," she said. "I just felt like it was time and no matter how scared I was, I had to step forward and to share my own story."
Earlier this month, Felix shared a powerful photo showing her C-section scar and medals.
"I never would have thought that using my voice would have led to NIKE changing their maternity policy for athletes and I definitely never would have thought it would lead to creating @bysaysh," Felix captioned the photo, referring to her new brand. "Keep going and keep speaking up, even if your voice shakes."
Felix says Saysh is products developed and designed "for and by women," including racing spikes and lifestyle sneakers.
The Olympian has also partnered with Athleta to give Olympic moms money to pay for childcare.
"It's so important, because obviously as a mom, first hand, I know those struggles that we're facing," Felix told TODAY. "I didn't want...childcare to be a burden for other athletes."