It was about this time last year that Allyson Felix received her first post-pregnancy workout instruction from longtime coach Bobby Kersee: a 30-minute power walk on a treadmill at the local fitness center.
It was a struggle for Felix, the most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete in history with nine medals and six golds. She questioned whether returning to form was realistic after an emergency C-section at 32 weeks with severe preeclampsia. Camryn, born at 3 pounds, 7 ounces, spent her first 29 days in the NICU.
The treadmill walk was “humbling, and it was hard and I was discouraged,” she said, “but it was the starting point.”
Five months later, Felix lined up for her first race as a mom. She distinctly remembers the announcer’s introduction at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. After reeling off accolades, the booming voice over the sound system crescendoed, “But her greatest victory came in November, the birth of daughter Camryn.”
“This moment that I wasn’t expecting,” Felix said. “So much love from everybody, and it was just really cool to be known as Camryn’s mom.”
She went on to finish sixth in the 400m at USATF Outdoors, qualifying for a record-breaking ninth world championships team (solely in relays this time).
At worlds in early autumn, she earned her 12th and 13th titles, breaking a record she shared with Usain Bolt. Felix’s split of 49.8 seconds in the 4x400m preliminary round was the fastest of the 64 women across all heats (which didn’t include any of the top five women from the individual 400m).
“I don’t think I was ever really in shape last season,” Felix said. “Well, I know I wasn’t because Bobby told me.”
Felix’s journey is expected to resume later this winter during the indoor season, then ramp up to June’s Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. She can join Gail Devers as the only U.S. sprinters to compete at five Olympics.
Felix is not limiting herself to the 400m, the lone distance she contested on the oval last season. She was known as a 200m sprinter for the first decade of her career, plus earned two Olympic titles in the 4x100m.
She said in November that — if healthy — there’s no reason not to enter the 200m at trials given the first round is four days after the 400m final. If Felix makes the Olympic team in both sprints, she will choose between them.
“Everything’s on the table this year,” Felix said. “This year, I’m going to be getting back to sprinting. I think that’s really key for me to be myself, and that’s something that I didn’t even get to touch last year.”
Felix, the 2012 Olympic 200m champion and a two-time silver medalist at the distance, nearly made the Rio Olympic team in both the 200m and the 400m. She came .01 of a second shy in the 200m at trials, three months after partially tearing two ligaments in her right ankle landing on a medicine ball.
Felix has said nothing went to plan in 2016. From the injury to being edged out by a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the Olympic 400m final to the oddity of re-running the 4x100m preliminary heats after a collision.
She thinks about Rio a lot. She thinks about Tokyo a lot, a chance to have her last Games be on her terms. Those terms changed since she became a mom, fighting for pregnancy protection in athlete contracts and raising awareness of racial disparities and social determinants in the maternal mortality crisis.
“When I think about legacy, I think before, I was always concerned with medals, and times. That’s what I wanted to leave behind,” she said. “In the space that I am now, I want to leave this world better than I found it. I want to have an impact on things like maternal rights, on issues of the sport, on change.”
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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