TEMPO Milwaukee’s 16th annual Leadership Event featured Allyson Felix, a five-time Olympian and the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete in Olympic history. Earlier this year, she launched her own footwear company, Saysh, which sells shoes “designed for and by women.” The move followed her departure from longtime sponsor Nike, which she accused of refusing to guarantee salary protections for pregnant athletes. In a fireside chat with TEMPO president and chief executive officer Jennifer Dirks, Felix shared insight on entrepreneurship, motherhood and her advocacy for women in sports.
“I think a lot of times we see athletes as being invincible and that nothing really affects them – and as athletes we expect that of ourselves – but there’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of expectations. I’ve learned over the years that it’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to have off days.”
“I gave birth (to daughter Camryn) at 32 weeks and had a severe case of pre-eclampsia, and my eyes were just opened to maternal health issues and the racial disparity going on. I thought if I can do anything about this – raise awareness, partner with organizations – I wanted to do that.”
“It’s already so daunting to be a new mom. It’s incredible, but it’s also really challenging, and having health issues on top of that really adds to the stress. But coming out on the other side of that has been incredible. My daughter has given me a different motivation.”
“I was pretty exhausted in asking for change. I had been up on that fight for quite a while, and here was an opportunity to not have to ask anymore but to be that change and to create what I had been searching for,” she said of starting her company.
“When I was going through everything, I felt like I was alone in it. By sharing my story, I realized I’m absolutely not alone – there are so many people who are on this journey, who connect with this, and, in a sense, it was amazing to have all that encouragement, but it was also a bit heartbreaking to know that we all have so many collective stories. And then, it inspired me because there’s so much work to do.”