March 9, 2022 12:08 AM EST

Allyson Felix is one of the fastest humans in history and the all-time most decorated woman in track. She won two medals at the Tokyo Olympics before retiring from Olympic competition this year. But off the track, she’s made her mark as an advocate for maternal health and women’s empowerment. Just weeks before the Games, she launched her own women’s lifestyle brand, Saysh, and wore the new company’s shoes during competition.

Naturally, Saysh boasts a generous parental leave policy. After her daughter was born premature at 32 weeks in 2018, Felix spoke out about the lack of options afforded to new mothers in the U.S. and in a New York Times op-ed alleged that her then-sponsor, Nike, wanted to pay her 70% less after she had a child.

Among TIME’s honorees for the magazine’s inaugural Women of the Year issue, Felix spoke at an event celebrating International Women’s Day about what she hoped would have changed for maternal health by the time her child is grown.

“For me it was terrifying and isolating. It was really dark,” she told TIME’s Alice Park of giving birth. “So I hope that her experience is everything but that.”

Read More: Olympic Champion Allyson Felix Brings Her Famous Focus to a New Challenge

Once Felix started talking to other women who had difficult birth experiences, she decided it was important to shine a light on their experiences and help them feel less alone.

“I think we’re really seeing women of color, our pain is not believed,” she said at the event. “We have to advocate for our own health. There’s so much implicit bias in the medical field. We need to change that and listen to and believe women.”

She continued: “I feel so fortunate I was able to walk out the hospital with my family and that’s not the case for so many women. What’s heartbreaking is so many of these deaths are preventable.”

Felix also found that new motherhood was not easy to balance with her record-breaking track career.

“When I did come back to competing, I found it was really difficult to travel the world with a newborn,” she said. “I remember competing in World Championships. My daughter was 18 months old. And on the national team, I was given a roommate. I was grateful that I had the resources to bring in support and help. But I thought about all the women competing at the top level who weren’t able to do that. So we created a fund for all the women who believe their best performances come after they’re a mother.”

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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