2017 LA84 Summit Recap – Right to Play: From LA to International Communities
By Shirley Ito
Speaker: Allyson Felix, Most Decorated Athlete in Track & Field History
Interviewer: Cari Champion, Anchor, SportsCenter
Felix began the discussion with how she was introduced to sports at Los Angeles Baptist High School and noted her introduction was much later in the ninth grade. She tried out for track and found a love of the sport and the competition, and by her senior year she discovered that she had something special.
Though Felix played both basketball and track after her freshman year, coaches and her family discussed the possibility of concentrating and becoming serious on one sport. Felix and her family were inexperienced and she had no real Olympic aspirations, and she started very late in pursuing elite-level sprinting events.
Felix and her family made sacrifices to have her pursue her athletic career and success. When Champion remarked on her hard work and asked what are the pro and cons to being an elite-athlete, Felix prefaced by saying she accepts the positive and negative sides. The sport at the elite level includes issues of gender inequities (pay and appearance fee differences), doping and the even dealing with losses in competition. Felix commented that progress for women’s track and field has been slow but steady.
A Foundational Support Group
Felix has had the support of her family from Day 1. She said that her parents and family influence all that she is, and built her character, part of which includes being a good judge of character.
Felix also added that mentors were and continue to be huge in her life. She was fortunate to have as a mentor Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an Olympic gold medalist in the long jump and heptathlon. “She could lay it out,” Felix recalled about their relationship. “She could tell me all the amazing things about the sport, but also be there to listen and offer encouragement. To help me make it through the day.”
Play is the Universal Language
The conversation included a discussion of Felix’s international charity work. As an athlete ambassador of seven years, Felix is actively involved in the global organization Right To Play. Right To Play is committed to teaching children essential life skills by way of play, sports and games, focusing on war-stricken countries and its refugees. They use play as a way to educate, instruct and teach survival skills, work Felix finds extremely rewarding. Many of the children with whom she interacts are not familiar with Olympians or the Olympic Games, but immediately respond through play. “They typically love to play, even we’re not speaking the same language,” Felix said. “But we can just jump right in with it and play different games.”
“Play is the universal language.”
Advice for Aspiring Athletes
Felix’s first piece of advice: “embrace the journey. As an athlete and competitive person, you always want to have success. You need to be able to to know that this is a long-term process, and that you learn from the moments you fall short. A lot of times you learn from yourself, about your character, your integrity, and you grow as a person. Realize this is a path full of ups and downs and that on the way, it helps you enjoy the highs much more and learn from the lows.”
Felix also added a viewpoint on youth just picking up sports. “I always tell young children and parents to let your child find their passion,” she said. “It’s important to have a good foundation and have a fun time, since becoming an Olympian takes a long time.”
Felix concluded by commenting on and praising the work of the LA84 Foundation. “It’s amazing work that is being done [by LA84],” she said, adding that youth sports need to be developed and that LA84 is supporting youth programming at a very important time in young people’s lives. “These people will go on to be our future. It’s amazing, and [LA84] should be applauded for the awesome and valuable job.”