Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross Says My Pre-2008 Games Abortion Broke Me, But God Redeemed Me

Image: Courtesy of Sanya Richards-Ross

Sanya Richards-Ross won Olympic Gold medals in 2004, 2008, and 2012 and was considered the best 400-meter female runner for over a decade. Her latest book, Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me about God and Life (Zondervan), explores her spiritual journey through both victories and failures—losing and winning races, facing disappointments in relationships on and off the track, enduring the pain of Behçet’s disease, and making the decision to have an abortion just before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

“When I was in my valley, in my pit,” says Richards-Ross, “and I felt so far out of God’s grace and had so much guilt and so many negative emotions—which the devil uses to trick us—I realized that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s so different from track, where you are chasing for one spot. But God just wants us to yearn for him, and that for me is the biggest lesson I learned. I’m just so glad I ran into grace.”

Richards-Ross spoke recently with CT.

While I was reading your book, I thought a lot about the places in the Bible where the Christian life is compared to a race. Sometimes I struggle with the tension between accepting God’s grace and also working hard to run to the finish line. Does your experience as a runner give you a way to understand this dynamic between grace and work?

That totally encompasses how I landed on the title of my book, Chasing Grace. As the book evolved, I did realize that I have always been chasing—I chase after records, I chase after my goals, I chase after my dreams. The word chasing has always been very important and resonated deep within me. But the best thing we have on the journey is that God’s grace is ever-present. You don’t have to chase it—God gives it to us freely.

One of the things you were so brave to write about was your decision to have an abortion shortly before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Having not shared that story in public before, why did you decide to share it now?

First of all, it took me ten years to have the courage to share it. I prayed about that for probably two years and prayed about how God would use that story to help other people. For me, it was that moment in the streets of Beijing [after my abortion and after coming in third in the 400 meter race] when I really felt God wrap his arms around me. That experience changed my life. I would have been disingenuous to my spiritual journey if I didn’t share that moment.

I understand that the abortion story has led in the news, but it’s really about every single one of us, when we do something that we feel we would never do. I was really prayerful about it and felt like honesty would foster healing—not only for myself but also for other women. And men. My husband was broken from [the decision], too.

I certainly appreciated your courage, and I’m sure there are many people who feel that way. Can you speak a little bit to how your faith informed your healing process beginning in Beijing and continuing until today?

It’s important to say that it is a process. In that moment on the street in Beijing, God offered me his forgiveness, but it took me many years to forgive myself. It wasn’t like, “Okay, cool, I’m healed, I’m recovered, I feel great about this journey.” It took a long, long time, to understand that I am not the sum total of my decisions and choices but I am a child of God. I am capable of any sin. And God loves me in spite of my sinful nature. That has helped me to heal.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Amy Julia Becker