When Olympic runner Allyson Felix penned a New York Times op-ed in May 2019 announcing she would cut ties with Nike, it sent shockwaves through the industry. Not only was she terminating what had been an almost-20-year-long relationship with the sneaker giant, but she was explaining exactly why in a very public way. Felix told of the brand’s unfair treatment of pregnant athletes, which she had witnessed firsthand after deciding to start a family in 2018 and subsequently being offered a 70 percent pay cut during contract negotiations. Her departure shone a light on Nike’s shortcomings when it came to supporting pregnant athletes (the brand did change its policy one month later, ensuring that female athletes would no longer be financially penalized for having a child), but it also sparked a larger discussion around the many challenges that athlete-mothers uniquely face.
Mitigating these inequalities has remained a top priority for Felix, even as she’s become the most decorated athlete in World Athletics Championship history, raised her now-two-year-old daughter, Camryn, and trained for her fifth Olympic games. But it’s played a crucial role in her partnership with Athleta, her sponsor since July 2019. Together, she and the Gap-owned women’s sports apparel brand have pioneered The Power of She Fund to empower girls and women to reach new heights in athletics, in their community, at work, and at home. And now, Felix and Athleta are joining forces with The Women’s Sports Foundation for a brand new initiative: The Power of She Fund: Child Care Grants.
Announced today, the first-of-its-kind program commits $200,000 to help fund childcare costs for professional-athlete mothers who are traveling to competitions. “It was important to me and to Athleta that our partnership reflects that I am more than just an athlete,” Felix said in a press release, noting that her contract even includes a provision for Camryn to join her whenever she’s competing. “But not everyone has access to this type of support from a partner or sponsor. These grants are about showing the industry that all mom-athletes need this same comprehensive support to be able to participate in their athletic endeavors.”
The first cohort of grant recipients—a total of nine athletes, six of whom are headed to the Tokyo Olympics later this month—will each receive $10,000 from the Fund to cover childcare costs so they can compete without any barriers. “Balancing training with being a full-time mom is not always a pretty picture, said Sitting Volleyball player, mother of three, and grant recipient Lora Webster in a press release. Without family nearby to help her with childcare, much of the Paralympian’s training happens at home with her kids acting as trainers. “There have been many instances where we simply can’t justify the cost of a babysitter on top of the cost of the gym and training site, so my training falls by the wayside,” she explained. “So, this money has given us such a big breath of relief in the past few weeks.”
The Power of She Fund: Child Care Grants will announce its next group of recipients in October, and any mom-athletes in need of support for their childcare expenses are invited to apply. “The expense of child care is one of the biggest challenges facing mom-athletes who want to stay in the game while also raising a family,” Women’s Sports Foundation CEO Deborah Antoine said in a press release. “These grants will help provide financial relief so that these powerful and inspiring women can continue to compete at the highest levels in their sport.”