LOS ANGELES — In what was billed as the last race of her professional career, Allyson Felix lost on Sunday.
But she was beaming again even before she regained her breath.
The race, held on a 100-meter track in downtown Los Angeles, culminated “The Allyson Felix Race For Change,’’ an event presented by sportswear company Athleta and aimed at raising awareness for the importance of child care and equity for women.
Felix, grabbing a microphone moments after finishing second in her final race, referred to Athleta when said she, “You guys asked me how I wanted to go out, and I said in my dream world running in the streets of L.A. with all of my people.’’
Spectators cheered as Felix, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, continued, “It’s been a joy this entire day just hanging out with everyone.’’
But not all joy.
Ashley Henderson said she felt a tinge of guilt after beating Felix in the 100-meter dash, which capped the daylong activities that drew a crowd that included Felix’s parents, older brother, husband and daughter. Hundreds of people came largely to see Felix, the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history.
But it was Henderson, a sprinter from St. Louis, who won the last race in 11.46 seconds.
Felix finished second in 11.66 seconds and Chloe Abbott, a sprinter from Michigan, finished third in 12.34 seconds. The heat featured only those three sprinters on the five-lane street track.
“I know this is her event and all about her and it still is despite who came to the line first or not,’’ Henderson said.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: Stay up to date with our sports newsletter
Earlier in the day, Felix had helped her 3-year-old daughter, Cammy, into the starting blocks for the first time. Later, with Cammy wearing sparkly gold shoes, mother and daughter ran down the track together. Albeit slowly, and one point Allyson Felix grabbing her daughter’s right hand and guiding her across the finish line.
No one seemed concerned that Cammy finished last on a day that offered a glimpse into the next phase of Allyson Felix’s life, as other mothers and daughters ran on the same track at the free public event.
About three weeks ago, Felix ran the last race of her competitive career – winning a bronze medal in the mixed-gender 4x400-meter relay at the world championships. Now she was running with a different purpose and focus.
After Cammy crossed the finish line, Allyson Felix guided her into a VIP tent, got her water and snacks and plopped down next to her on a comfy couch.
“Just being a mother has really just put me down a different path and one I didn’t expect, I guess,’’ Felix, 36, later told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s just being more thoughtful and definitely shifted things from always being laser focused on a specific goal all the time to thinking about the way I want Cammy to grow up and I think that inspires me to do different things and make different choices.’’
The biggest recent choice: retirement from track.
“I think it probably hasn’t even hit yet, what it’s actually going to be,’’ she said. “This year has been really emotional, and it’s been hard coming to the realization that it’s time for me to walk away. But because I have been doing this for the last 20 years, there is a loss of this thing that I absolutely love to do and that I’m so passionate about.
“I’ve talked to other athletes who’ve gone down that path and I think it’s just going to be something I’m going to have to figure out, even though I have my next great challenges and I have all the things lined up, that I’m going to be doing. But I think it’s more of an emotional thing, like a loss.’’
Might it be time to start raising her own track star in Camryn? After all, Kenny Ferguson, Cammy’s father and Allyson’s husband, also is a former sprinter who won three gold medals at the 2003 Pan American Junior Championships.
“I’m kind of pushing her in different directions,’’ Felix said. “Yeah, it may be selfishly, but I’ve been to so many track meets. I would love to see her maybe play tennis or golf or maybe do something different. But obviously whatever she wants to do, I will be supportive.’’
Felix also is thinking of her own future, and it will involve more than parenting. She said a primary focus will be her footwear company, Saysh. She also noted she recently joined the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission and said, “So I’m excited to hopefully have some impact there, just continue to try to do some of that.’’
It’s unlikely you’ll see her coaching anytime soon after years of working with coach Bobby Kersee.
“I blame Bobby that I’m not the next Bobby,’’ Felix said with a smile. “I’m, like, ‘The pain that you have inflicted on my life.’ I think what’s he’s really left me with, him and Jackie (Joyner Kersee), is like the role of mentorship, and what that looks like.
“I don’t have that coaching bug right now. But I want to help the next generation. I want to share my experience and help them along the way. In that way I do want to be active.’’
She already is giving back by providing childcare – which she understood was essential after giving birth to her daughter in 2018 and eight months later traveling as she prepared for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Before the Tokyo Olympics, Felix and Athleta committed $200,000 to help fund childcare costs for mothers who are also athletes while they are traveling to competitions. In June, she partnered with Athleta, &Mother and Vivvi to provide onsite child care to fellow athletes at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championship in Eugene, Oregon.
“The dream is for that to be the norm at all events,’’ she said. “And obviously that’s going to take a lot of work to get that in place, but that’s where I want to see that going, and just finding ways to be thoughtful and supporting women in general.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Allyson Felix takes aim at goals away from sport of track and field