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When it comes to the professional running circuit, there are few athletes who have accomplished as much as Allyson Felix. At last year’s IAAF World Championships in London, she became the most decorated athlete in the event’s history, with 16 medals to her name. (The Los Angeles, Calif., native is also the most decorated track and field Olympian in history with nine career medals—no big deal.) A competitor for four USA Olympic teams to date in individual and relay events ranging in distance from 100 to 400 meters, Felix is far from done and has already identified the 2020 Olympics as her next big goal. But there’s plenty of downtime before 2020—and what better way to spend that time than by giving back to aspiring young athletes in her hometown?
You’ve raced your way to wins in several Olympic and IAAF World Championship races. What more do you hope to accomplish as a professional runner?
The 400 meters is a big goal of mine; I’d like to do more with that. Of course, 2020 is a big goal—I’d love to make a fifth Olympic team. I’d love to do well there and go for gold in the 400m.
What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned throughout your career?
It’s really about the journey. As a competitive athlete, it’s so much about winning and working hard each season and wanting to see the results. Throughout my various experiences, I’ve learned that it’s not so much about one specific destination or goal but the process and the journey to get there. That’s where I feel like character and integrity are built and tested.
It’s so much more rewarding going through the process; you appreciate it so much more once you finally reach that goal. Even the times when you fall short, you learn so many valuable lessons from those difficult moments.
You’ve been involved with the YMCA since childhood. In recent years, you’ve given back through campaigns like My Y Story and even competed with YMCA kids in virtual competitions before the 2016 Olympics. Why is this particular community the one to which you always return?
A big part of the area I grew up in was having a safe place to go, and the Y provided that for my family. That it was safe and part of my community was so important and continues to be important for all the communities that the Y reaches.
The thing that continues to bring me back is what they stand for: Youth development, healthy living and social responsibility are all things that are important to me, and that’s what they do for not only children but communities.
What makes youth education programs so important to you personally?
I’ve always had a passion for children. I think that comes a lot from my mom, who was a third-grade teacher. Growing up in her classroom and being around kids, it’s always been a huge part of my life to try to make a difference and do rewarding work.
For the children out there who are just starting to discover an interest in running, what advice would you offer?
If they’re passionate about it, I would tell them to have fun with it. It’s such an amazing sport, and you can learn so many life lessons from it, so enjoy it. Work really hard, do what your coach tells you, be disciplined, but have fun. Have fun with your teammates and enjoy the entire process.