Heard on the Hill

Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix recalls her ‘most terrifying days’

Felix testifies on maternal health and mortality on Capitol Hill

Allyson Felix, U.S. track and field Olympic gold medalist, testifies Thursday during a House Ways and Means hearing in the Longworth Building. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Allyson Felix, the most decorated female track and field star in American history, was on Capitol Hill on Thursday — not to discuss the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, or preach about fitness, or boast about her gold medals, but to speak to the rising maternal mortality rate in the U.S.

The six-time Olympic gold medalist began her statement humbly: “I’m Camryn’s mom.” The testimony that followed was birthed from her own personal experience. When Felix was 32 weeks pregnant, a prenatal doctor’s appointment and common case of “swollen feet” led to bedrest and the discovery of preeclampsia, which put her and her unborn baby at risk. Doctors then scheduled an emergency C-section.

“It’s amazing how quickly your priorities change in moments like this,” she wrote for ESPN last year. “I didn’t care if I ever ran track again. I was just praying that she would be OK.”

Maternal mortality and health has been a growing area of focus in recent months. In April, the Black Maternal Health Caucus, led by Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, was launched to bring awareness to the disparate rates of maternal deaths in black communities. Underwood was present for some of Thursday’s hearing.

While Felix’s story ends with a healthy baby, a lot of women, particularly black women, do not experience the same happy ending. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.” Felix’s goal is to shed light on those women who are at higher risk.

When questioned by Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly about what could’ve been done differently in her case, the athlete responded, “I’m puzzled as well. … I did do everything right, and so I think that’s really what’s scary. … This conversation is a great place to start.”

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