Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, known as the fastest woman in history (at 400 meters) in track and field, says after all of her accomplishments and failures as an athlete, she's learned that life really is all about glorifying God.
Thirty-two-year-old Richards-Ross released her debut memoir, Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God and Life, on June 6. In the memoir, she talks about her journey to Olympic fame, opens-up about her battle with shame after having an abortion, her relationship with husband and former NFL cornerback Aaron Ross, and the faith that has sustained her.
"I've always loved the Lord and tried my best to keep Him at the forefront of my life whether I was chasing Olympic gold or not," Richards-Ross said in an interview with The Christian Post.
She accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior and was baptized at the age of 13. Since then, Richards-Ross says she's always used her faith to inform her life.
"I truly feel like it was my faith that really got me through my journey to Olympic success. In the low times, knowing that God was always there with me and that everything happened in my life for a reason. For me, I don't feel like I went from Olympic gold to a woman of God, I feel like I am an Olympic gold medalist who is the woman of God," she declared.
"I feel like my sport helped me grow closer to God and helped me to lean on Him and understand that He does love us unconditionally. I truly understand that, and I'm grateful that I had sports as a platform to truly experience God in a unique way."
Richards-Ross says she's always had a great support system around her that helped keep her grounded. Honoring her parents as well as her husband for being people of faith, she said it was them who kept her focused on the things that mattered most.
"Ultimately as I got older, I actually understood more and more that this life wasn't about gold medals and records and any of that stuff, it's really all about glorifying God," she said.
Two weeks out from entering her second Olympics, this time in Beijing in 2008, she learned she was pregnant and that news would change her life forever. Feeling like she had "no choice at all" because her lifetime of work was right before her, the accomplished sprinter made the decision to have an abortion. The decision was made with her now-husband, New York Giants player Aaron Ross, who was at training camp and the next day she flew to China.
Richards-Ross describes the difficult season in her new book but adds she would never give advice to another woman on what they should do in their situation because it's between the individual and God. She does, however, hope her story will encourage others.
"Whatever you decide, there is forgiveness and hope on the other side of it," the Jamaican-American said. "I think for me, after that time in my life, I literally felt so much guilt and shame. I felt like I was outside of the umbrella of God's love.
"I get emotional talking about it because I know how hard it was for me as a Christian, who never thought I would do something like [having an abortion,]" she admitted. "I think the most important thing for women to know is that when you ask God for forgiveness, He will forgive you and you can rebound from that and still be the woman that you hope to be.
"Life isn't always black-and-white. Sometimes life does get gray, and sometimes we do things that even shocks ourselves, but we are human."
Ross added that although it's been 10 years since her abortion, it still strikes a nerve with her when she thinks about it. In any case, she has made up her mind to talk about it because she wants women who do not have support to know that there is forgiveness and they can bounce back from being in such a dark place.
Richards-Ross is now pregnant for the second time and is celebrating the fact that "God does restore."
With such a heart for ministry, the new author said she would "absolutely" love to use her gift of speaking and encouraging in ministry.
"That's the reason I wanted to share my experiences and I did give my testimony in my church the week after the book was out," she said. "I ultimately want that to be my biggest platform with this book — to be able to speak to women and men in ministry. For me, it's not political, it's not any of those things, it really is spiritual."
Richards-Ross said she was shocked by the number of women who approached her after she shared her story and could relate to it.
The former track and field star won gold at the 2012 London Games after an unexpected loss at the Beijing Games in 2008. After rigorous training to get a shot at capturing the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, she suffered a career-ending injury when she pulled her hamstring during the Olympic trials. She then announced her retirement.
Now off the track, Richards-Ross is an entrepreneur, TV personality, public speaker and humanitarian. She runs "The Gold Standard," to raise awareness and provide financial relief for Olympic hopefuls whose Olympic dreams are limited by the expense. She's also the founder of the "Sanya Richards-Ross Fast Track Program" that has provided hundreds of children in Kingston, Jamaica, with literacy training, physical education and healthy meals. In addition, Richards-Ross executes sports clinics across the United States to educate and empower youth with tools to excel both on and off the track.
For more information on the five-time Olympic medalist or her book, Chasing Grace, click here.