Faith, father help guide Felix to success on the track
It is early morning at the large cafeteria hall of the Sunrise Ministry in Auburn, Calif., and Professor
At the front table, the soft-spoken daughter who otherwise tried to emulate the man with the booming voice, smiles at the irony. After all,
In four months, the sprinter may be the female track star of the Beijing Olympics, running three distances -- including two relays -- with a chance to win three gold medals. But on this morning, she is the youthful, beaming, 22-year-old Sunday-school teacher who has just introduced her dad at the church's annual father-daughter breakfast.
"My family has always been there to make sure I understood what we were learning in church," she tells people. "My running is a gift from God; My success is not of myself. I know that my actions on and off the track should be a reflection of God, because people watch what you do and what you say. My father taught me that."
It is the first time Allyson has had the occasion to introduce Paul, who suspects ulterior reasons for his increasing demand. "I realize that when people ask me to come and speak these days," he says, "there is usually another motive, because they can ask me to bring my daughter."
It is understandable. In 2004 Allyson won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the Athens Olympics when she was just 18. Last summer she became the second female (after East Germany's
When she speaks of her faith, she doesn't come across as an athlete who blindly attributes a winning shot or lucky punch to a higher power, but as one whose lifestyle choices have ennobled her to achieve them. She maintained a full course load at the University of Southern California, where she graduated last year with a degree in elementary education. In the winter she teaches Sunday school to students in third through sixth grades. "My beliefs calm my heart and my mind," she says. "I understand why the journey is more important than the medals."
Go to the home in Santa Clarita, Calif., that Allyson shares with her older brother,
In hearing Paul, you understand why Allyson gives such thoughtful answers and keeps celebrations to a minimum. In an age of fist-pumping and self-congratulations, her humble and studied comportment come from the father who earned three masters degrees, taught ancient Greek and became president of the Los Angeles Bible Training School. On this April day he speaks lovingly of the infant he and his wife nicknamed "Shug," a diminutive of sugar.
"It is a great calling," he says, "to be fathers our children can pattern themselves after." He calls the Bible "the one authorized textbook for raising children" and admits "we live in a culture that often doesn't value women for the right reasons."
Later Paul tells the parishioners, "she can win all the medals she wants, but if my daughter isn't walking in the truth, then the medals don't matter that much."
It is a word of both caution and hope for a sport that, for years, has had trouble walking in competitive truth.
The track world needs Felix at a time when the BALCO drug scandal is still rippling through it.
Mindful of public cynicism track has endured, Allyson recently volunteered for an enhanced drug-testing initiative of international officials that will incorporate blood testing and increase the frequency of her out-of-competition tests before the Beijing Games.
"I understand where track is," she says, while signing church programs and table placements for people at other tables. "I have to live up to that. And I have to live up to my dad."