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You could call Sanya Richards-Ross a lot of things. An Olympic gold medalist. A World Champion. A Women’s Running cover runner. A humanitarian. A family woman. Even a reality TV star. Just don’t call her down for the count. After a devastating injury that almost forced her retirement from professional running, Richards-Ross pushed through an intense rehab and recovery to come back better than ever. She won her 400-meter preliminary heat and barely missed making the finals at the U.S. Outdoor Championships, but she’s headed to the World Championships in Beijing in August before heading to Rio in 2016. With her winning combination of physical talent, mental strength, and an incredibly positive attitude, it’s clear that what she should really be called is an inspiration.
Women’s Running: After your injury, what was your recovery process like, both physically and emotionally?
Sanya Richards-Ross: Coming back from my injury was really difficult. I had been competing with a toe injury for more than five years, and I finally underwent my first surgery in 2012 and was forced to undergo a second surgery in 2013. The hardest part of recovering from any injury is definitely the mental component; the physicality of retraining your body is intense. Going through rehab and feeling so far behind in your training is hard, but trusting your body to do what it once did easily is by far the toughest. It takes time and the right kind of support, and I’m so grateful I had both!
WR: How are you feeling as you head to the World Championships? What do you hope to do there as a preview for the 2016 Olympics?
SRR: I am really excited about the 2015 season. I am as healthy as I’ve ever been and focused on my goals. My hope is to win another world title this year and position myself to defend my Olympic Gold Medal in Rio. The World Championships are the perfect trial run to get you mentally and physically prepared for the Olympics.
WR: You are the most decorated female Olympian of track and field of all time. Do you feel like your accomplishments and experience will give you an advantage in Rio?
SRR: I definitely believe my experience will help me in Rio. I remember being the youngest athlete on the team and hearing how important experience was, I didn’t completely grasp exactly how important until I became a veteran on the team. There are so many extraneous things that come up around the Olympics that can make the experience so overwhelming, but after three appearances, I believe I’ve had just enough practice to be ready to handle it all!
WR: What does running look like for you after next year’s Olympics?
SRR: This is such a good question! I’m not sure what running looks like for me after the Olympics. I will certainly always run in some capacity. It’s been a great gift that has afforded me tremendous opportunities and experiences. However, I haven’t put much thought into how I will run after I retire from professional track and field, for now I’m focused on Beijing and Rio.
WR: Your foundation, The Sanya Richards Fast Track Program, provides both academic and athletic support to students in your native Jamaica. What inspired you to create it? What are your hopes for the foundation in the future?
SRR: I started the Sanya Richards Fast Track Program with a gentleman out of South Florida, Andrew Post, because we were both passionate about helping young people. For me it was personal, as I always valued the education I received growing up in Jamaica and understood it gave me the foundation I needed to excel in all my endeavors. My hope was to do the same for others. The program has been around for more than seven years, benefitting hundreds of students, and is a great source of pride for me. We are currently restructuring it to ensure it is even more effective and sustainable for the foreseeable future.
WR: You starred on your own reality show, Sanya’s Glam & Gold. What was it like sharing both your personal and professional lives with the world?
SRR: I loved it! I had always wanted to do a reality show and was grateful for the opportunity! It was definitely a lot of work, but I enjoyed every minute of letting people peek into the lives of myself and my family!
WR: You participated in the #WeAreAllUncool campaign that recently circulated on social media, citing your insecurities about your accent and scars. How do you get past your anxieties?
SRR: I embrace them. As I’ve gotten older I realize we all have insecurities and fears and it’s normal! Instead of running from them I embrace them and move forward. I encourage myself knowing I am who I am for a reason and that God is working through me. That gives me the confidence I need to do anything!
WR: You are one busy woman—you train incredibly hard, give much of your free time to your foundation and maintain a close relationship with your family. If you had a day completely free of commitments, how would you spend it?
SRR: If I had a day completely free, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself! I enjoy the craziness that is my life and love training, spending time with my family, giving back, doing sponsor appearances and all that I am fortunate to do. If I had a free day I’d probably spend it on a beach somewhere thinking about what I’d like to accomplish next.