Allyson Felix has a new baby, a new goal and a new brand behind her.
The Olympic athlete is putting her best foot forward by beginning a new partnership with athletic brand Athleta while kicking off her prep for the 2020 Olympics.
“I’m just really thrilled about it,” Felix tells PEOPLE exclusively in the wake of the announcement, made with a full-page ad in the New York Times. “The way that they are doing sponsorship to me is incredible. It is focused on me as a whole — as an athlete, as a mom, and as an activist, and just to be supported in that way is amazing.”
“Our values just really align and even other initiatives to work on that are going to support and empower women and girls, are all things that are really close to my heart,” the track star, who is the brand’s first-ever sponsored athlete, says.
Felix’s sponsorship with Athleta comes after the country’s most decorated female track and field star denounced Nike — her former sponsor — in a The New York Times op-ed where she revealed that the brand wanted to pay her 70 percent less following her first pregnancy last year. Felix was first inspired to share her story after two of her former Nike teammates, Olympic runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, broke their silence on the brand’s maltreatment of their pregnant female athletes.
“When Alicia and Kara spoke out initially, it was just really inspiring and encouraging to me,” she says. “I think it’s just the power of the collective. The more voices that come together creates change. So, I felt like even though it was a little scary for me just to join the conversation and to have something to add, I think that there was power in those stories.”
The mom, who recently returned to the track for the first time since giving birth to her daughter, Camryn, eight months ago, goes on to explain that her new partnership is not just about “athlete and performance,” but about celebrating and embracing motherhood and working moms.
Specifically, Felix says, “protection around maternity was something that I really wanted to bring awareness to.”
“I think [Athleta is] really leading the way in this. So, it’s something I’m really excited about.”
In addition to celebrating being the new face of Athleta, the six-time Olympic gold medalist also revealed that she has started to build up a training routine to begin preparing for the 2020 Olympics.
“That is definitely my big goal, to be back to a 100 percent and to be back representing our country,” she says, before admitting that working out and training after giving birth has been a “challenging” experience.
“It’s different, definitely challenging. I think for any new mom when she returned to work just, you’re exhausted and you’re balancing your family and what it all looks like. So it’s no different from me,” she says. ” I am just getting used to what the new normal looks like and getting my routine down and all of that. But I couldn’t be happier to do that and to have the support, to be able to come home from a long day of training and to see my daughter and her smiling face. It really is like the best thing in the world.”
Camryn was born Nov. 28, 2018, at only 32 weeks when the athlete had to have an emergency C-section because of severe pre-eclampsia.
Felix tells PEOPLE she also looks to other pro-athlete moms for inspiration.
“One of my favorite people who, to me, she’s just the ultimate, is Kerri Walsh Jennings,” she says of the three-time Olympic gold medalist for beach volleyball. “I mean she is just phenomenal and so she has been someone who’s been really supportive and really in that you can have both. You can have this amazing career, you can be the best mom and you don’t really have to sacrifice in doing that. So she’s someone I definitely look to for inspiration.”
The track star also notes tennis champion Serena Williams as one of her inspirations.
“There’s a lot of great examples out there right now. Serena as well — constantly reminding us you can be just as — even better than ever before,” she says of the 23-time grand slam winner.
With her new sponsorship, Felix will train and compete in Athleta products, with the goal of helping to impact and empower female athletes. The Olympic sprinter recently competed in her first race since giving birth, where she donned her new Athleta gear at the U.S.A. Track & Field Outdoor Championships.
“I’m just really excited for the partnership,” Felix says. “I’m really proud that I feel like this is kind of redefining what sponsorship looks like and celebrating athletes holistically and doing things differently.”