Allyson Felix is speaking out about the death of her U.S. Olympic teammate Tori Bowie from complications of childbirth.

For Felix, Bowie’s death highlights the urgent need for better maternal health care for Black women.

“I hate that it takes Tori’s situation to put this back on the map and to get people to pay attention to it. But oftentimes, we need that wake-up call,” Felix said in a first-person essay for Time magazine.

Bowie was approximately eight months pregnant and in labor when she died, according to an autopsy report. Possible complications contributing to her death may have included respiratory distress and eclampsia.

In her Time essay, Felix details her own childbirth experience, including how she developed preeclampsia while pregnant with her daughter and required an emergency C-section.

“I was unsure if I was going to make it. If I was ever going to hold my precious daughter,” she wrote. While she had developed swelling in her feet, which is a sign of preeclampsia, Felix had no idea what to watch for, she wrote.

Eclampsia is characterized by one or more seizures during pregnancy or during the postpartum period, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition develops from preeclampsia, which causes pregnant women to suddenly develop high blood pressure and other complications.

Studies have found that American-born Black women have a higher risk for developing preeclampsia. According to the CDC, the maternal death rate for Black women in the United States in 2021 was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 births, which is 2.6 times higher than the rate of maternal death among white women.

“Like so many Black women, I was unaware of the risks I faced while pregnant,” Felix wrote. “Not once did someone say, ‘oh, well, that’s one of the indicators of preeclampsia.’ None of us knew. When I became pregnant, my doctor didn’t sit me down and tell me, ‘these are things that you should look for in your pregnancy, because you are at a greater risk to experience these complications.’”

And Felix isn’t the only one. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia during pregnancy. In giving birth to daughter Olympia, Serena Williams developed near-death complications, including blood clots in her lungs. And another Olympic teammate of both Bowie and Felix’s, Tianna Madison, went into labor early and delivered at 26 weeks.

“As of June 2023…3 of the 4 members of Team USA’s 4x100m relay team…who ran the SECOND fastest time in history, and brought home THEE gold medal…have nearly died or did die in childbirth,” Madison wrote on Twitter. “We deserve better. #BlackMaternalHealthCrisis”

The lack of education, Felix wrote, “needs to change now, especially in light of Tori’s tragic passing.”

“The medical community must do its part,” she wrote. “There are so many stories of women dying who haven’t been heard. Doctors really need to hear the pain of Black women.”

There have been steps toward change. In May, legislation titled the Momnibus Act was introduced in Congress. A package of 13 bills, it was crafted to “eliminate racial disparities in maternal health and improve outcomes across the board.” Back in 2021, California passed similar legislation, which makes investments in areas including housing, nutrition and transportation for underserved communities. Pharmaceutical companies are also looking into early detection and treatment of preeclampsia.

Still, while Felix would love to have another child, she is concerned about being alive to raise it amid what she calls a “Black Maternal Health crisis.”

“This is America, in 2023, and Black women are dying while giving birth. It’s absurd,” she wrote. “I’m hopeful that things can get better. I’m hopeful that Tori, who stood on the podium at Rio, gold around her neck and sweetness in her soul, won’t die in vain.”

On Nov. 29, 2014, five days after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who killed Micheal Brown, Ariyana Smith became the first athlete to bring the #BlackLivesMatter movement into the sports landscape.

While Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James are commonly thought of as the torchbearers of sports activism, Just Women’s Sports knows Black women have always been at the forefront of driving change. In the first piece of our Black History Month series, we shared the stories of Rose Robinson and Wyomia Tyus, athletes who fought against injustice in the 1950s and ‘60s. Since then, a myriad of Black sportswomen have taken action, some recognized and some not.

Smith, a basketball player at Knox College, suited up to play against Fontbonne University in Clayton, Miss., mere minutes from Ferguson. When the national anthem began to play, Smith raised her hands in the now iconic “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture before laying on the ground. Officials tried to move Smith in an attempt to start the game, but she continued her demonstration for four and a half minutes, symbolic of the four and a half hours Mike Brown’s body lay in the street after he was killed.

While the #BlackLivesMatter movement has spurred a frenzy of demonstrations in sports, Black women have been championing a variety of topics before the age of kneeling began. In the past twenty years, issues of racism, sexism and equality have been thrust into the public discourse due to the actions of Black women in sports, committed to creating a more just world for those who come after them.

Toni Smith

More than a decade before Ariyana Smith took a stand, a different Smith protested the national anthem. In 2003, Toni Smith, a senior basketball player at Division III Manhattanville College, turned her back to the flag in protest against inequality and the country’s involvement in Iraq.

(Wayne Taylor/Getty Images)

Venus Williams

In 2006, Venus Williams penned an open letter in The Times in a push for equal pay. A year earlier, she had addressed the Grand Slam Board, advocating for an equal distribution of prize money at the French Open and Wimbledon. Williams’ voice brought attention to the pay discrepancies in the sport of tennis and led to the leveling of pay at Wimbledon. When she won her fourth Wimbledon trophy in 2007, Williams became the first woman to receive the same earnings as that of the men’s champion.

Seimone Augustus

Seimone Augustus, a four-time WNBA champion and one of the most decorated players in women’s basketball, advocated for gay marriage in 2012. The 2011 WNBA Finals MVP wanted to marry her wife in the state where she had won a championship the year prior. The Minnesota Lynx star spoke out against a ballot measure that would have made same-sex marriage illegal in the Minnesota state constitution.

Brittney Griner and Layshia Clarendon

In 2017, Brittney Griner and Layshia Clarendon co-wrote an op-ed in which they voiced their opposition to a Texas bill that would have barred transgender people from using restrooms and other public facilities of their choosing. The WNBA stars saw the bill as a danger to queer athletes who may have been forced to use a locker room that differed from their gender identity.

Maya Moore

Maya Moore, one of the most accomplished women’s basketball players in the history of the sport, stepped away from the game at the peak of her success to pursue criminal justice reform. Moore dedicated herself to freeing her now-husband Jonathan Irons, who had been falsely imprisoned for burglary and assault. With the help of Moore, a judge overturned Irons’ conviction after he spent 23 years of his life in prison.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams has been outspoken about gender and racial equality for most of her illustrious tennis career. She wrote an open letter in 2016 addressing equal pay, and another in 2017, on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, focusing on pay inequities unique to Black women. In 2018, Serena and Venus Williams joined the Billie Jean King Initiative to push for equal pay for women in all industries.

(Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix brought attention to Nike’s refusal to guarantee salary protections for pregnant athletes in a 2019 New York Times op-ed. Felix, the most decorated U.S. track athlete, said that Nike attempted to pay her 70 percent less after she became a mother. Shortly after Felix’s public appeal, the company expanded its pregnancy benefits for women athletes.

Allyson Felix and Serena Williams are also champions for Black maternal health. Both women experienced life-threatening complications during childbirth, common to Black women. Felix underwent an emergency C-section to save herself and her daughter after doctors discovered she had severe preeclampsia. Williams developed a pulmonary embolism and a hematoma shortly after she gave birth, resulting in a series of surgeries and weeks of recovery before regaining her health.

Williams’ story brought national attention to the Black maternal health crisis, and she invested $3 million in a Black-owned startup aimed at improving prenatal and postpartum care for new mothers. Felix testified before Congress to petition the government to address systemic biases that lead to disparities in maternal mortality.

Gwen Berry

Gwen Berry raised her fist during the national anthem after winning the hammer throw at the 2019 Pan American games. Berry, a thrower for the U.S. women’s track and field team, was protesting racial inequality and police brutality, and was subsequently put on a 12-month probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. As a result, Berry lost several sponsorship deals, totaling nearly $50,000. After the Olympic Committee reversed their stance on protests in 2020, Berry demonstrated again at the 2021 Olympic Trials, this time by turning away from the flag.

Naomi Osaka

Days after Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisc., Naomi Osaka refused to play the semifinals of the Western and Southern Open, forcing the tournament’s postponement. Less than a week later, she arrived at the 2020 U.S. Open with seven masks in her duffle bag, each embroidered with the name of a Black victim of police violence: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice. Osaka wore a different mask during each round of the tournament, winning her second U.S. Open title while drawing international attention to police brutality.

(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Raven Saunders

At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, while standing on the podium, Raven Saunders raised her arms and crossed them into an “X.” The American made the Game’s first podium demonstration after winning silver in the shot put. As a gay, Black woman with a history of mental health struggles, Saunders’ crossed arms symbolized the intersection of her oppressed identities.

Simone Biles

On the eve of further cementing herself as the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles withdrew from the team final and women’s individual all-around final at the Tokyo Games. She cited mental exhaustion and physical health concerns after experiencing the “twisties,” a state of dissociation that inhibits a gymnast from completing a skill.

As arguably the face of the Tokyo Olympics, dealing with the pressure of breaking world records, Biles felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. In a sport that has long demanded obedience from its young athletes, the simple act of saying “no” sparked a moment of reckoning in sports. Biles, who announced in 2018 that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar, a longtime doctor for USA Gymnastics, spurred conversations about mental health, abuse and exploitation with her decision. Biles, like so many other Black women athletes, continues to leverage her platform to drive societal change.

Mariah Lee is a professional athlete and freelance writer who specializes in the intersection of race and sports. She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.S. from the Wake Forest School of Business. Follow her on Instagram @merdashewrote.

Allyson Felix continues to shine off the track.

After announcing her own shoe brand designed by and for women, Felix and partner Athleta have announced the Power of She Fund. 

A first-of-its-kind program is committing $200,000 to help cover the child care costs for athlete moms. The first six recipients, all who are headed to Tokyo, will each receive $10,000. 

Already the fund is getting great interest in the second round of grants, as announced in a segment on Good Morning America this morning. Those who want to apply can do so here.

Felix has long been an advocate for working mothers, even leaving Nike after publicly condemning their maternity policies – something that led to Nike changing those policies. 

Felix is set to compete in her fifth Olympics in the 400m after capturing a second-place finish at Olympic Trials.

Hot off of qualifying for her fifth Olympics, Allyson Felix announced the launch of her shoe company Saysh on Wednesday.

Felix has come into her own in recent years, going from a relatively quiet (while absurdly accomplished) athlete to an outspoken agent of change.

“Like so many of us, I was told to know my place,” Felix says in Saysh’s first video on YouTube. “But here I am, ready to run for a brand that I founded, designed for — and designed by — women. All of my experience of becoming a mom, of raising a daughter, helped show me my true competitor — inequality.”

“Here I am, using my voice to create change for us as women, and for us as mothers, and for all the women who want to be mothers. So here I am. I know my place.”

In an interview with Time about the launch, Felix detailed how the Saysh One was designed by women for women. The 35-year-old has been wearing a track spike version of the sneaker during the Olympic Trials.

One of the most decorated track athletes in history, Felix qualified for the 400 meters on Sunday to make the Olympic team.

Allyson Felix started on the quest for her fifth Olympics, winning her 400m heat in the U.S. Track and Field trials on Friday.

Felix advanced out of the first round, clocking a time of 50.99 seconds. After the race, Felix said, “I feel good, I just want to run smart and keep progressing.”

The Olympic icon will join 15 other runners on Saturday for the 400m semifinals.

Allyson Felix is set to compete in her fifth Olympics in Tokyo this summer, where she’ll get a chance to add to her nine Olympic medals.

Felix recently sat down with David Marchese of the New York Times to discuss all things Olympics, maternal health and faith.

When asked about public health and safety concerns at the Tokyo Olympics, Felix told the Times she would trust the experts.

“We have had so much loss of life, and I don’t want to contribute to any more. So I feel as if I have to be at the mercy of the experts in charge. It’s in their hands. But I can be very honest: I would be devastated if the Olympics didn’t take place.”

Felix also touched on athletes’ role in the broader Olympic machine, and she didn’t mince words.

“The athletes do not have a seat at the table when the decisions are being made. Now I get where we fall in the grand scheme of this ginormous thing that makes a ton of money — the athletes don’t see that money. It’s a big machine.”

The 35-year-old Olympic gold medalist also gave insight into her 2019 decision to sign with Athleta upon leaving Nike. Felix previously made waves when she publicly condemned the maternity policies at Nike.

“Going to Athleta, I was at a place in my career where supporting women and girls mattered to me, and they are actually doing things that are important in that space, like not Photoshopping their images.”

Finally, Felix revealed what it took to return to the track after giving birth. The sprinter said following childbirth, she could barely finish a 30-minute walk, but she was back competing at the world championships within a year.

“In this world we’re unwilling to give someone time, and after having a child that’s what you need.”

You can read the full New York Times interview with Allyson Felix here.

Professional female athletes are often forced to rely heavily on individual sponsorships in order to make a living. Their body’s ability to perform at peak level is crucial to their negotiating leverage. Thus, pregnancy and childbirth can often throw a significant wrench into these negotiations, so much so that pregnancy itself has historically been called “the kiss of death” for a female athlete’s career.

This is exactly what happened to Olympic track star Allyson Felix when she began talks with Nike in 2018 to sign a new contract. Early on in this process Felix was happily but trepidatiously pregnant. And according to Felix, even before she disclosed her pregnancy, the sports apparel giant told her they’d be reducing her pay by 70%.

Why such a drastic reduction in their valuation of her? It could have been that based on her age (32 at the time), Nike felt that Felix’s career had peaked. Whether they factored in the likelihood of her starting a family is unknown, but regardless of the rationale, it was clear to Felix that these negotiations were going to be tough.

“That’s what really terrified me,” Felix tells Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast. “Here we are beginning this conversation before I disclose my pregnancy, and it really led to me going through my pregnancy in silence.”

Felix says she started training at 4:00am in the morning so that nobody would see her and discover she was pregnant..

“Because at the time I still didn’t have an offer on paper. I felt like it was going to disappear.”

When her daughter Camryn was born November 28, 2018 via emergency C-section at 32 weeks due to severe pre-eclampsia, Felix was still at a crossroads with Nike. The sticking point? Maternity protections. Felix was willing to consider reduced pay, but she was adamant that her new contract, and the contracts of all female Nike athletes, include protections against performance-related reductions and right of termination clauses in the months around pregnancy and childbirth. In other words, Felix wanted it in writing that female athletes’ pay could no longer be paused, reduced, or terminated when they couldn’t meet contractual performance standards due to pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

“It wasn’t enough for them just to put it in for me, this needed to happen for everyone,” she tells O’Hara.

In May 2019, taking the lead from two of her fellow athletes, Felix penned a powerful piece for the New York Times detailing her frustrations with Nike, a risky move seeing as they still hadn’t reached an agreement. But watching her baby daughter fight for her life in the NICU had given Felix a new level of bravery and perspective about what was most important to her.

“It was also having my daughter,” she tells O’Hara, explaining the decision to go public. “Thinking, I don’t want her to go through the same struggle… it’s standing up for myself, for other women, and for her. That’s what it was really about.”

To add to the risk she was taking, Felix says she didn’t have another sponsor waiting on the table.

“I just had to go with what I believe in at the end of the day.”

After Felix and her colleagues spoke out, there was significant public outcry aimed at Nike, as well as a Congressional Inquiry into their maternity policies for athletes. A few months later, Nike announced new maternity protections to be written into contracts for all its female athletes: an 18 month period beginning eight months prior to the due date during which an athlete’s pay could no longer be reduced or terminated due to pregnancy.

While the change was a welcome one, it came a little too late for Felix, who had already walked away from the table with Nike. A month prior to the Nike announcement, Felix signed with Athleta, becoming their first sponsored athlete.

“I just liked the way they approached sponsorship,” she tells O’Hara. “They were taking a really holistic approach. You know, seeing me as a mom, obviously as an athlete, but also they supported my work in advocacy and fighting for women’s rights.”

Today, Felix says she feels like she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

Nike may have decided that Felix’s athletic peak was behind here, but what the company drastically underestimated was just how much the public looked up to Allyson Felix as both an athlete and a person. A Black female Olympic champion fighting through a complicated birth and recovery in order to compete for a chance at an astonishing fifth Olympic games, all while advocating for women’s rights and changing the way sports companies understand pregnancy?

We’re here for ALL of that.

Listen to Allyson Felix’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast here.

Picture this: it’s 2012, and Allyson Felix is walking to the starting line for her signature event, the 200 meter sprint, at the London Olympic Games. To her left and right are seven world-class competitors, including Jamaican runner Veronica Campbell-Brown, the two-time reigning Olympic champ who bested Allyson at both the 2004 and 2008 games.

Twice, Allyson has been left with the bittersweet taste of winning Olympic silver. And now, for the third time in her career, four years of training will be put to the test in a half-lap sprint around the track.

You might think Felix is nervous, but on this mildly warm and humid Wednesday in the summer of 2012, the 26-year-old American approaches her starting blocks with “a sense of peace and calm,” as she tells Kelley O’Hara on the JWS podcast.

This inner tranquility is masked by a warrior-like, furrowed-brow stare aimed down the track, one which only momentarily vanishes into an easy grin when Felix’s name is announced and she waves to the crowd.

To understand where this hidden sense of calm comes from, we need to rewind.

Eight years prior, at the 2004 Olympic games, Felix was one year out of high school and had just foregone a track scholarship to USC in order to turn pro and put all her energy into the 200M Olympic event. Losing out on the gold medal to Campbell-Brown there in Athens was a painful disappointment, but one that was tempered by Felix’s youth, a long career ahead, and plenty of room for improvement.

And improve she did. After Athens, Felix spent the next few years establishing herself as the best 200m runner in the world, beating Campbell-Brown at both the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. And while the rivalry was alive and well heading into the 2008 games, Felix was considered the heavy favorite to take home Olympic gold.

When the race began, Campbell-Brown got out to a fantastic start, and Felix knew she’d have to rely on her best-in-the-world top end speed in order to catch her. But with 20 meters left, Felix began to realize Campbell-Brown was out of reach. And as she crossed the finish line in silver medal position, the totality of what had just happened slowly started sinking in. Felix had spent the past four years training for this specific race, and in less than 22 seconds it had ended in defeat.

As any rational person would, Felix entered a phase of deep reckoning on whether she wanted to continue running.

“I had to look at myself and figure out, am I going to keep doing this?” she tells O’Hara on the podcast. “Can I dissect every piece of my training, my lifting, my nutrition? Where is there space to grow? Am I going to do another four years when nothing is guaranteed? Like, how bad do you want it?”

Luckily for the sporting world, Felix eventually decided she wanted it bad enough.

She entered a new level of sacrifice and precision in everything she did, redeeming herself once again at the 2009 World Championships, where she beat Campbell-Brown to win gold in the 200M.

World Championships are nothing to scoff at, and yet at the time, Felix joked that she would trade all three of hers for an Olympic gold.

She kept working. And come 2012, after four more years of sacrifice, training, injuries, rehab, and a strict dietary regime, Felix now had another chance to win one herself.

Walking to the starting blocks, she knew the calmness she felt had been earned by all the work she had done to prepare.

“Preparation is your confidence. That’s the hardest part. It’s not coming out and running the race. The struggle is in the preparation.”

As Felix tells O’Hara: there was nothing else she could have done.

“Literally, I couldn’t think of anything else to add to the program. Knowing that just gave me a sense of confidence.”

When the starting gun went off, all those years of preparation and sacrifice would prove to be enough, as Felix raced ahead of the pack to secure the one victory that had long evaded her: an Olympic gold medal in the 200 meter sprint (with Campbell-Brown left off the podium).

It’s perhaps the most prized of her now nine Olympic (6 gold, 3 silver) and 18 World Championship medals (13 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze).

And the pivotal moment that led to her now unmatched glory? That gut-punch loss in Beijing as the Olympic favorite in 2008?

“I was completely devastated,” Felix admits. “But I’ll also say that moment has been the most defining moment of my career.”


In recent years, Felix has gone through new challenges: a contentious departure from Nike and a difficult childbirth and intense recovery with her daughter Camryn. Knowing that for Felix, it’s the pain of hardship that drives her desire to win, we can’t wait to see what she has to offer next as she goes for her fifth Olympic games in Tokyo next summer.

Listen to Allyson Felix’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast here