Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix gave the “Beyond the Resume” keynote speech at Princeton’s second annual Wintersession on Saturday, Jan. 22. She spoke in conversation with Athletic Director John Mack ’00 at the event, which was co-sponsored by Princeton Athletics.
During her talk, Felix encouraged students to follow their passions and persist in the face of adversity.
“Sometimes you feel like you're standing still, like you're putting all this work in but you're never seeing the result,” she said. “I think a lot of times we feel that way, but really understand that you do have to have that patience and you do have to have that commitment and see something long-term and see it through.”
Felix is the most decorated track and field Olympian in U.S. history. She has won 11 medals at five consecutive Olympics from 2004–2020, including seven gold medals in races such as the 200-meter, 4x400-meter relay, and 4x100-meter relay. She also advocates for women’s pay equity and maternal health.
Director for Wintersession and Campus Engagement Judy Jarvis commended Felix for her accomplishments and advocacy in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
“We sought Allyson Felix to be the speaker at the Wintersession annual Beyond the Resume keynote talk because she is an incredibly talented athlete, businessperson and activist,” she wrote. “There is so much for us to learn from someone as dynamic and multifaceted as [Felix].”
“Yes, Allyson Felix has a dominant track and field resume, but she’s also decided to use her platform to advocate for so many important issues—from maternal and infant health to equitable payment for women athletes and more,” Jarvis continued.
At her first Olympic Games in 2004, Felix won a silver medal in the 200-meter race. She waited for the opportunity to try again for an individual gold in the 2008 games, only to get a silver medal once again. Felix discussed how she realized the importance of failure in creating room for growth.
“I wish that I had known at a younger age that there's a lesson to learn, like in every defeat, there's something that I could get better from, and then you move forward, you don't stay there,” she said at the event. “There is a way to demand more of myself and to get better and then also learning just to deal with defeat and that's a part of life. Sometimes you give 100 percent and you still fall short, and that's okay.”
According to Felix, the 2020 Olympics were the most memorable for her out of her five Olympics because these were her first since she gave birth to her daughter, Camryn, in 2018 after a pregnancy full of difficulties related to her health and her career. After the birth of her daughter, Nike attempted to pay Felix 70 percent less than before her pregnancy for her sponsorship, sparking her to continue to advocate for more equitable pay.
Her advocacy led to public outcry and Congressional testimony, contributing to Nike ending their policies that discriminated against pregnant women.
“It was the first time that I felt like a representation for other people, for women, for mothers, and knowing that I was representing them, it gave me a whole different sense of motivation.”
Motherhood is often a taboo topic in the athletic world, according to Felix.
“In my sport, I never saw a mother who was celebrated, who had a child and yet came back to compete. It wasn't that it wasn't happening, because it was, but these women, their stories weren't being told,” Felix said.
Felix told stories of female athletes who would hide their pregnancies and attempt to secure new sponsorships, and other athletes whose contracts would be paused completely during their pregnancy.
“I feel like it's a privilege to be able to speak for my community, to be able to fight on behalf of other people who might not have a voice or the platform. To me, it's an honor to be able to do so and I feel like I do want to be responsible with what I have,” she said.
One student asked Felix how she balances taking time for herself with striving to achieve her goals. Felix emphasized the importance of self-care in helping her rejuvenate and recover throughout her career.
“Some of the most important training days are days when I’m resting. My body is gonna gain so much more from being able to recover than continuing to build on and just be burned out,” she said.
Felix also launched her own women’s footwear company, Saysh, in 2021.
She closed out the talk with a message of gratitude for the opportunity to talk to the Princeton community.
“It’s just been really nice to talk with all of you guys and to connect,” she said. “You guys have such great futures and I feel really just honored to be able to share my own experiences with you because I know that you're gonna go on to do great things.”
Students enjoyed hearing about Felix’s journey. Stephanie Yen ’24 had admired Felix ever since she heard about her from a childhood friend who ran track. When she found out Felix was coming to Princeton, she excitedly told her friend and knew she had to attend the talk.
“I thought it was really exciting because obviously, Allyson Felix is a huge Olympic celebrity and then I was really interested in just hearing her talk in a more casual setting,” Yen said in an interview with the ‘Prince’.
Yen appreciated how Felix’s accomplishments spanned both athletics and advocacy.
“It's just interesting thinking about Allyson Felix as more than an athlete and all the other causes that she is passionate about,” Yen said. “I think it's just really respectable and inspiring that she is also such a role model for female athletes and others.”
More than 300 undergraduate students, graduate students, and staff members registered for the event on MyPrincetonU, and 150 people attended, according to Jarvis. The talk was held from 6:00–7:00 p.m. on Jan. 22 in Richardson Auditorium.
The ‘Prince’ was unable to get in contact with Felix by the time of publication.
Naomi Hess is a news editor emerita who focuses on University policy and alumni affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NaomiHess17.