June 20 2018
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For many athletes, early exposure to sports comes by way of a community club or program. In the case of decorated track and field Olympian Allyson Felix, that community organization was the YMCA. Serving initially as a safe space that hosted social and athletic activities for children to participate in after school, the Y has remained an important touchpoint in Felix’s life as an adult athlete. “The Y has always been there for me, especially at times when I needed it and didn’t even know that they were right around the corner,” Felix said. “They’ve always supported me.”
The Y recently invited Felix, actor Ethan Hawke and chef Marcus Samuelsson to share their history with the organization by participating in its original video series, collectively called “My Y Story.” For her video, Felix returned to Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Family Y–which she visited frequently as a kid–and worked with children there on a science project, challenging them to build race cars that could beat her fastest 100-meter time (10.89) using plastic bottles, straws and clothespins. “Working with those kids, building the race cars and seeing if they could beat me–it was just really fun,” Felix told Women’s Running after her “My Y Story” video was released in late February. “It brought awareness to some of the amazing things that the Y has to offer to help make the community better.”
Though local Ys are often associated with after-school athletic programs, the organization has historically connected people through social programs with wide-ranging focuses. Founded in 1844 in London, with the first United States location established in Boston in 1851, the Y was imagined as a “home away from home” for people of all ages, though youth development has been a consistent emphasis since the 1850s. Today, the YMCA hosts informational programs that explore topics like diabetes prevention and blood pressure monitoring in addition to its many recreation programs.
Bringing attention to lesser-known Y programs is one of the reasons Felix was eager to participate in the video series; another is the underlying theme that such programs represent. “The thing that continues to bring me back is what [the Y] stands for,” Felix said. “It’s right in line with what I believe. 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. It’s really special.”
Felix’s “My Y Story” video is available for viewing at the top of this page and on the YMCA website. To learn more about the range of programs the Y offers, visit the “Our Focus” tab on its official website.