"Hopefully, a lot of mothers will see themselves in me," she told reporters earlier this week. "I just want to be that inspiration"

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Allyson Felix returned to the Olympics — and to the podium — in her first appearance at her fifth Summer Games, writing herself into the history books in the process.

Felix, 35, won bronze in the women's 400m in Tokyo on Friday night, becoming the most decorated female track and field athlete ever. That medal count, including six golds and three silvers stretching back to 2004, also ties Carl Lewis as the most decorated American.

It was a success unlike any other in Felix's career, she told reporters earlier this week.

"It was a fight to get here. When I was younger, I never really thought about making a final," she said Wednesday after qualifying for Friday's final. She was referring to her age in a sport that privileges the young and to coming back to it after becoming a mother to daughter Cammy in late 2018.

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Cammy's birth was at 32 weeks via emergency cesarean section and she had a weeks-long hospital stay while Felix suffered from preeclampsia.

Allyson Felix
Credit: Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

"There are a lot of moments when I was doubtful that I would be able to feel like myself again," Felix had said Wednesday.

"I am slowly getting there and, for me, it is just one race at a time," she said. "I will re-focus, regroup and get back out there and keep fighting."

After her win, other U.S. racers quickly lauded her legacy.

Gabby Thomas, who won her own medal on Friday night in the women's 4x100m relay, said that Felix was an inspiration.

"She has a such a long career. She hasn't let anything stop her, whether it be her age, the number of races she's running, who's lining up next to her, who tested positive," Thomas told reporters. "She never let any of that get to her, even now being a mother. Just her grace and poise and commitment to excellence."

"Hopefully, a lot of mothers will see themselves in me," Felix said Wednesday. "I just want to be that inspiration."

That echoed what she told PEOPLE after making it to the final.

Allyson Felix
Credit: Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

"I've had so many challenges because of it," Felix said of motherhood, "and so I think it's even more meaningful now to be on this stage as a mom."

"It feels like I've been waiting forever," Felix said Wednesday. "It felt good to get out there."

Next, she could win her 11th medal when she competes in the women's 4x400m relay on Saturday.

* With reporting by KAREN MIZOGUCHI

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.