Earlier this year, Allyson Felix brought child care to U.S. track and field events – not just for herself, but for every parent working at the event. And it was free.
Felix knows that matter what your job, child care can be a hurdle – even if you are an 11-time Olympic medalist. “My eyes were just opened when my daughter [Camryn] was eight months old and I went back to competing,” Felix told CBS News. “I was traveling everywhere with her, and I just felt like the world was not set up for me to do that. It was just really, really difficult.”
At the 2020 Summer Olympics, for example, Felix couldn’t bring her daughter due to COVID-19 restrictions. Olympic marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk got the decision appealed so she could bring her nursing baby. Many parents, however, had to leave their children behind.
“My heart aches leaving Cammy today to head to Tokyo. It will be the longest we’ve ever been apart,” Felix wrote on Instagram in 2021 ahead of her travels to Tokyo. She said she was still excited to go and run “for greater equity for each of us and for women.”
Felix told CBS News that having her daughter, now 3, made her think about “all the other parents in all the other different industries and just how hard it is” – and that made her want to do more to support working parents.
“Because, as a parent, you still have all your dreams and your goals and all the things you’re capable of accomplishing, but you still need support in other areas,” she said.
So, she partnered with Athleta and the nonprofit &Mother to bring free child care to coaches and staff at select track and field events. She says it’s “starting off point” that she hopes reaches other industries.
“My goal in having the free child care at track meets was being able to expand that. Expand it to be the norm and really just the standard of what happens in athletics and pushing that to other sports. And eventually, yes, we would hope that accessible child care … I hope to move those efforts forward,” Felix told CBS News.
&Mother, which is dedicated to helping women pursue and thrive in both career and motherhood, said the pilot program at track and field events “is the first step on the road to standardizing supportive services for parents participating in career-defining athletic events.”
Felix says she’s had friends tell her they’ve had to miss work opportunities due to challenges with child care – but they shouldn’t have to.
According to a recent survey from Clorox, 42% of millennial parents of color are more likely to be nervous about back-to-school season, compared with 33% of white millennial parents. On top of that, 85% of millennial parents of color reported they have had to shift their lives around due to an ill child, including taking a sick day or unpaid time.
“Sometimes, at the end of the day, you just have to stay home and miss out and miss out on opportunities and your life is disrupted, because your child is obviously the most important thing,” Felix said.
“I know I feel it a bit as well, with all the different hats I wear – from an athlete, entrepreneur. And as a mom, I want the best for my daughter, the best opportunities for her, and I do think you feel a little bit of anxiety and stress as [back to school] time is moving forward,” she said.
Felix’s advice is “trying to slow down” through the back-to-school stress.
“So, being able to step back away from it – for me, I try to set aside some moments in the morning, even before the family gets going, to set my intentions and get centered for the day. And then, being able to lean on support during this time is huge. Whether that is family, friends. Having someone to talk to during it to share those feelings.” She said cleaning to keep your family healthy and prevent sick days “is a way to eliminate one more thing off the plate.”
The free child care initiative is not the only thing Felix has done to help working parents, pregnant people and women experiencing unequal pay.
In 2019, Felix and other athletes stood up to Nike, accusing the sponsor of either pausing their contracts or significantly lowering their paychecks while they were pregnant. The company soon updated its athlete contracts to protect female athletes’ pay during pregnancy. Nike said it updated its policy the previous year, but its contracts previously allowed the company to reduce pay if athletes fell short of performance goals, including during pregnancy or childbirth. The company said that changed.
After that, Felix teamed up with the “No” Grants program, which helps women who have faced consequences for saying no at work by providing short-term financial assistance. She said she wants to “completely” end the gender pay gap.
She also started her own sneaker line, Saysh, that helps pregnant people. Since foot size often increases during pregnancy, Saysh will send customers who are pregnant a new pair of sneakers in their new size.
And earlier this month, she ran through the streets of Los Angeles with a community of runners to raise awareness for accessible child care.
Caitlin O’Kane is a digital content producer covering trending stories for CBS News and its good news brand, The Uplift.