Olympian Allyson Felix shares why doing her daughter's hair 'actually has a lot of meaning for me'

·5-min read
Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix shares the lessons she's passing on to her daughter. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix shares the lessons she's passing on to her daughter. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

At just 35 years old, sprinter Allyson Felix has competed in four Olympics games, winning nine medals in track and field — more than any other American woman — and is currently training for the upcoming Tokyo Games. A recent New York Times profile points out that earning one more medal would make her the most decorated Olympian female track athlete from any country.

But it’s Felix’s other role, as mom to daughter Camryn Grace with husband Kenneth Ferguson, that drives her on a daily basis — and she’s made no secret about the difficulties of her pregnancy and delivery in an effort to raise awareness about the racial inequality in maternal health care. These days, Felix is starring in a new "What's Your Legacy" campaign for Pantene that highlights not only her success as an athlete, but also the legacy she leaves behind for her daughter.

Here, the California native chats about making time for herself, cheering on the Lakers, supporting fellow athletes like Naomi Osaka and appreciating tiny moments like styling Cammy’s hair.

How would you describe your approach to parenting?

We try to be thoughtful in raising our daughter and giving her tools to navigate the world she’ll grow up in. We think about exposing her to different people, different cultures, and making sure she’s confident and she knows her worth [so] she’s able to be a force in this world — whatever she chooses to do. We’re just preparing her.

Does your Olympic background play a role in the way you parent?

I think it goes both ways: As an Olympian, and as an athlete, everything is so structured and so regimented. As a parent, everything is chaotic! In some ways, I’m not prepared but then I think about overcoming barriers and having to be ready for anything. But at the end of the day, I'm just the same as any other parent— still figuring things out [laughs].

Do you seek out parenting advice from friends?

I go to my friends all the time; I ask them about everything and am always trying to get tips and tricks. They ask me as well, but with parenting, there’s not ONE way, so we just try to figure out what’s best for our family.

What’s something that’s surprised you about becoming a parent?

It’s really hard — and it’s really amazing and rewarding — but it’s also really challenging. It’s about understanding that both of those can exist at the same time. Embrace all aspects — some things are hard but I know there’s a lot of joy there as well.

Between Olympic training and parenting, I’m guessing there’s not much free time left. How do you manage to carve out some time for yourself?

It’s so important; I have to create that time. Sometimes that looks like me asking my mom if she wants to spend some time with [daughter] Cammy, or having my husband take over for the day. I just go do what I want to do — something that I enjoy, sometimes that’s me lying in bed, catching up on mindless television. Whatever it is, it’s just knowing that I can step away and have a moment of quiet for myself.

What’s your go-to guilty pleasure TV show?

My guilty pleasure TV is Real Housewives of Atlanta [laughs] but I’m a huge sports fan — basketball is my first love.

What was parenting like during the pandemic? What did you learn?

The importance of family during that time. Something that seems trivial — like doing my daughter’s hair — actually has a lot of meaning for me. I just embrace those small moments that are a special tradition in our family. I’m proud to be in the Pantene campaign because they’re celebrating not just what I've done on the track, but what I've done off the track. Speaking up, using my voice — that’s something I want to teach my daughter as well. It’s about advocating for others if you’re in the position to do so.

You’ve spoken out not just about racial inequality in motherhood but gender inequity as well [see Felix’s New York Times op-ed]. How did you feel about Naomi Osaka’s recent decision to bow out of doing press?

I was really proud of her standing up for herself, but also felt it was unfortunate that it had to come to that. Oftentimes [we] women have had to advocate for ourselves. We shouldn't have to do that, but we’ve had to take that on. What [Naomi’s] done is to put this conversation around mental health and sports in the forefront, and challenge some of the systems in place that have been there for a long time. It’s important to do and at her young age, I'm really proud of her for recognizing that she needed to do it.

As you make a bid for your fifth Olympics, are you thinking about your legacy? And if so, what do you want included in your legacy?

It’s the things away from the track. Had you asked me that years ago, I think I would’ve mentioned a record or a medal, but as I've gotten older and as my world has changed, it’s that I stood up for women and that I’ve tried to change things. I hope when I walk away from this sport, I hope things will be better and will look different. To me, that’s the most important thing to be remembered for.

From a fan’s perspective, what are you looking forward to seeing most at the upcoming Tokyo Games?

I’m so looking forward to watching my teammates compete. I’ve always been fascinated with gymnastics, so I'm excited to watch Simone Biles and the history she will make. I love just being a fan!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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