Disappointed. Confused. Hurt. That’s how we feel when a role model turns out to be unreliable. When someone we admire fails us, the painful emotions trigger questions. Should we stop looking up to the leaders around us? After all, they routinely seem to let us down. Also, should we run away from being role models ourselves? Should we warn others not to look up to us in case we mess up?
In 2007, American sprint star Marion Jones confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs while winning five medals in the 2000 Olympic games. Perhaps no one took the news harder than current Olympian Allyson Felix, whose own passion for track-and-field had been inspired by Jones’ feats. She was devastated by Jones’ admission of guilt.
Having won a silver medal in 2004 along with a silver and gold in 2008, Allyson Felix ranks among the most celebrated members of the USA’s 2012 Olympic team. Rather than shy away from the platform that comes with fame, Felix has stepped confidently onto it. She feels her position comes with the responsibility to be a positive example—a role she has embraced. As part of Project Believe, a program of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Felix submits to randomized blood and urine tests to prove that she is competing drug-free. Through her participation, Felix hopes to send a message to up-and-coming athletes that they don’t have to inject anything into their bodies to be able to perform at an elite level.
Felix also travels internationally as an Athlete Ambassador for Right to Play, a nonprofit organization seeking to empower disadvantaged children through the power of athletics. In that capacity, she has traveled to Lebanon and Palestine to inspire children to develop life skills and self-confidence by playing sports. Furthermore, Felix advises the government on opportunities to promote active, healthy lifestyles as a volunteer member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
As much as she once looked up to Marion Jones, Allyson Felix’s mom and dad have always been her foremost role models.
“I admire them so much because they are real people yet they live such godly lives. They have countless responsibilities and hectic schedules, but they know what their life is all about, and they have a passion for sharing their faith and making a difference in our community.”
She credits the love and support of her parents as a major reason for her successes in life. She also caught an important lesson from them: leaders have awesome opportunities that come with tremendous responsibilities. In the words of her dad, speaking of his leadership role in the Felix family, “It is a great calling to be fathers our children can pattern themselves after.”
Leadership is inseparable from influence. We cannot live in this world without touching the lives around us—and being affected by them in return. We’re always going to influence and to be influenced. We always are role models, and we always have them. The biggest choices we will ever make, then, are how we will influence others through our roles in life and who will be the role models we allow to influence us.