Allyson Felix took inspiration from Serena Williams when launching her record-breaking return to track after becoming a mother.
The 33-year-old sprinter's gold medal at the 2019 World Championships earlier this month was her 12th, which broke her tie with Usain Bolt and made her the athlete with the most gold medals in history at the World Championships. The fact that she did so less than a year after giving birth to her first child -- a daughter, Camryn -- two months early via emergency C-section made her accomplishment that much sweeter.
"For me, this was a more important moment because of all it represented," she told AOL's Gibson Johns at personal finance company SoFi's "Get That Raise" event. "For me, it was about women and overcoming adversity and a really tough year of not feeling supported. All of those things made it more meaningful than just, ‘Oh, I’m getting attention.’ It was actually for something."
Felix's victorious return to competition comes on the heels of Williams' return to tennis after welcoming her first child, daughter Alexis Olympia. While the all-time great player is still chasing her elusive 24th major title, she has managed to make four grand slam finals since giving birth (the complications around which she's used to raise awareness for the risks that women of color experience during childbirth).
Her determination served as an inspiration for Felix.
"She was an inspiration to me to train through my pregnancy and to have confidence in my ability to come back. Even when she went through her complications and I went through mine, it just really made me understand how big of an issue this is for black women and women of color," Felix explained. "It made me really just want to get the word out there and raise awareness for what’s happening, because Serena is a very privileged person and I am as well, and if we are facing these complications, then you can only imagine what others are going through."
"It’s really neat to see, and she’s just amazing," she added. "She continues to inspire me."
Another source of inspiration has been another new mother and one of Felix's longtime rivals on the track, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The accomplished Jamaican track star became the fastest woman in the world yet again when she won gold in the 100-meter race at the World Championships -- two years after giving birth to her son, Zyon.
"It’s been interesting, because we’ve been competitors for so long. It’s just life that changes you at some point and both of us becoming mothers really brought us together," Felix said of embracing motherhood alongside one another. "Whereas before, not that it wasn’t a friendly competition, but we wouldn’t really mix too much, but now we have something that brings us together, that we share in common and that gives us something to talk about."
"We’ve really been encouraging each other, and she’s been a great source of help along the way to bounce things off of and vice versa. It’s something that I never really imagined in a competitor, but it’s really cool," she went on. "To be able to support other women, at least in my sport, I didn’t feel that when I first came in. I wanted to change that culture. Let’s celebrate one another, and let's encourage one another!"
The six-time Olympic gold medal winner using her global platform to encourage women supporting one another and to raise awareness around racial inequalities in healthcare for new mothers is something that she's begun to embrace more and more as she's advanced in her career, and it's made her career that much more rewarding.
"When I was younger, I felt like I had to be consumed in just the sport. Everything had to be surrounding the question of, ‘How do I win?’ I’m an athlete, and that’s what I do," Felix told AOL. "But as I’ve gotten older and I’ve grown, I understand more about platform and what you can do with that. Now I’m able to tackle some issues that will have much more meaning than running on the track."
Another one of those things is financial awareness and maternity protection, which she first spoke out about in a historic op-ed for the New York Times in which she detailed how her pregnancy affected her contract negotiations with longtime sponsor Nike. Felix, who is now the face of Athleta, further opened up about her learnings at SoFi's "Get That Raise" event in New York City last week.
"I want to share the negotiating tips that I learned along the way. I’ve been in this business for a long time now, so I have a lot of insights," she said ahead of the event. "My first deal happened when I was 17 years old, so now to be here at 33, the biggest thing is knowing my value and knowing my worth and understanding what that is, what that looks like to a brand and how and when to hold tight for something and when it may not be coming. That’s the biggest thing."