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Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross: God Made Me Resillient

Sanya Richards-Ross is a four-time Olympic gold medalist. “I am a five or six-time World Champion,” she says. “I am the American record holder in the 400s, so the fastest American to ever run the 400. And I've been professional for over 13 years. But the truth is behind that podium there's so much work, and there's so much sacrifice, and so much pain.”

Sanya was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She remembers when she first started running. “We had like a fun day at school where we had to like race, and I beat all the girls and beat all the boys and the track coach was like, ‘Yep, you're coming out for the track team.’”

At seven years old, she had her first big meet. “At the national stadium,” she explains, “we have what's called our Prep Champs. Local prep schools come to compete, and thousands of people come to the stands to watch us run. It's very serious. It's almost like football in Texas. I’m representing my school, the fans are in the stands going crazy, and I want to win more than anything.”

She shares, “When I was young I just loved the idea that I was good at something. But as I’ve gotten older, I feel like running has been this great expression that God has given me. I know for sure it's a gift from God because, you know, I didn't create it. I feel very free when I run. I feel like I'm most connected to God when I'm on the track.”  

“Before a race,” she describes that, “there are lots of things kind of going through my mind. I’m thinking about my race strategy. I think about the tough days at training. I tell myself that I deserve to be here, I've worked hard, this is my moment. I always say to myself, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ That kind of centers me. Right before the starter says, ‘On your marks,’ and we're about to go in the set position, my mind just goes completely blank and clear. I can hear my heart beating until the starter says ‘Set’ and I just get really calm and really poised. I love that moment, that tranquility right before the explosion out of the blocks.”

Sanya says that it takes a great deal of commitment and passion to be the best in the world. “I do a thousand sit-ups every day,” she says. “I go to the weight room four or five days a week. I'm on the track five days a week. I've had three surgeries. I have struggled with mouth ulcers and skin lesions throughout my career. All those things, you know, the blood, sweat and tears, it's real. It's not always pretty, it's not always glorious, it's not always golden. There are moments where I have self-doubt. There are moments where I have anxiety, where I'm fearful. I still have to keep pushing through and keep believing.”

In 2008, Sanya was favored to win the Olympics. “I was prepared,” she remembers. “I had done everything that I thought I could to win it, and I won the bronze. There was a moment where I thought about quitting. Four years is a long time to wait to attempt to win a gold medal again. But I've always felt that God made me resilient, and so I stuck with it. I went out in London, and won the gold medal.”

“You see me run and it looks like a Cinderella story but,” she continues, “inside my shoes I’m in so much pain I had a bone spur that was like coming off the top of my toe, and my doctor said I was basically running on a broken toe in London. I think it's important for people to know that there's always a struggle behind that victory or that really special moment.”

For Sanya, the struggles she faces in running remind her of her faith. She shares, “I think about my journey as a Christian and the day I gave my life to Christ and I remember the pastor saying, ‘This doesn't buy you a ticket to an easy life…just lets you know that you'll always have Christ on the journey with you.’ And so I just know that no matter what I do in life it's not going to be easy. It's always going to test my character and test my strength. But the question is, ‘Why quit? Why stop?’”

This year will be Sanya’s last year competing, and it is a day she knew would come. “I think as an athlete,” she describes, “you know that it's not going to last forever. When my career is over and I do walk away, of course, I'm going to be a little bit sad, but for the most part I think I'll be proud of what I've accomplished and what I've given to the sport and looking forward to the next chapter of my life and what God has in store for me.”  

Over the years, Sanya has learned that, “Sometimes God wants us to win because there's a lesson in winning and sometimes God allows us to lose because there's a lesson in our loss. When I was more immature in my faith, I would pray, ‘God, please give me the victory today.’ And God has been so gracious and so kind to me and so merciful that a lot of times he has given me the win. Now I pray more that His will is done, and that I can handle the outcome no matter what it is because, of course, I train to win. I want to be the best. I want to cross the finish line first. But at the end of the day I pray for God to allow me to handle it no matter which way it goes and to be gracious in defeat and also gracious in victory.”  

On July 1st, 2016, Sanya Richards-Ross suffered a hamstring injury forcing her into early retirement. The following day, she shared, “Will I miss it....YES! But the best parts of my sport live with me forever…This has been a great journey.”

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