For world-renowned sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, 2008 was a tumultuous year. Engaged and scheduled to compete in the Summer Olympics, Richards-Ross discovered that she was pregnant one month prior to her race. Wracked with fear and worry, the Christian athlete did the unthinkable—she had an abortion—and immediately regretted the decision.
In her new memoir, Chasing Grace, Richards-Ross, now married and pregnant again, detailed the heart-wrenching choice she made nine years ago and the multi-year road of recovery she has traveled.
Although left-leaning media outlets tend to censor or downplay the regret that many women feel after having an abortion, Richards-Ross stressed to People magazine and AOL Build the importance of grace and talking through shame and grief.
“Everything I ever wanted seemed to be within reach,” she recalled of the day she discovered her pregnancy. “The culmination of a lifetime of work was right before me. In that moment, it seemed like no choice at all.”
The faithful Christian then remembered trying to justify an abortion. “The debate of when life begins swirled through my head, and the veil of a child out of wedlock at the prime of my career seemed unbearable,” she recounted. “What would my sponsors, my family, my church, and my fans think of me?”
Richards-Ross’ words are timely ones in light of the recent news of Maddi Runkles, a Christian high school student who was told she could not walk at graduation because of her unwed pregnancy. Although Runkles bore the shame and carried her baby to term, it is indisputable that some women feel compelled to abort to avoid condemnation from conservative family and friends.
In Richards-Ross’ case, the shame, compounded with the toll her condition could take on her performance, was more than enough inducement to terminate the pregnancy.
Even still, after the procedure, the runner was “broken.”
“I made a decision that broke me, and one from which I would not immediately heal,” she recalled. “Abortion would now forever be a part of my life. A scarlet letter I never thought I’d wear. I was a champion— and not just an ordinary one, but a world-class, record-breaking champion. From the heights of that reality I fell into a depth of despair.”
The very next day, Richards-Ross flew to Beijing. And two weeks later, during the 300 m finals, the athlete came in a disappointing third place after a cramp crippled her hamstring.
“In some weird way, I felt like I didn’t deserve to ask God for my biggest blessing when I had done something that just didn’t fit well with my soul,” she told AOL Build.
After breaking down into uncontrollable tears that very night, Richards-Ross remembered feeling “God wrap his arms around me and tell me that he loved me.”
“I felt forgiven in that moment,” she reflected. “I realized nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Despite the initial darkness and defeat, light returned to the runner’s life. In 2009, Richards-Ross was named IAAF Female Athlete of the Year. In 2010, she married former NFL cornerback Aaron Ross.
Now, seven years later, the duo are expecting their first child together. Although they both look back with regret on aborting the “blessing we had rejected by always wanting to be in control,” the power couple are thrilled for the future.
“I feel like God restores,” Richards-Ross said of her baby on the way. “What an awesome time to tell my story and hopefully help other women who are in the same situation. You don’t realize how much it hurts until you actually start talking about it.”
Through her vulnerability in Chasing Grace, the runner hopes to inspire others —especially women – to “stay the course.”
“I think there are lots of young girls who experience this – especially female athletes,” she stressed. “I look forward to having more discussions about it and helping young women heal from it.”
One of the women who best understands is Sarah Brown, an elite Virginian runner who, while training for the 1500 m Olympic trials, discovered that she was pregnant.
Although Brown and her husband Darren had “mixed emotions” about the baby, she determined to have her daughter Abigail and race four months after giving birth. As Elle contributor Kristina Rodulfo wrote, Brown “set her sights on both achieving her career goals and having her child.”
And that, after all, is the ultimate display of true feminist power that many liberal media outlets don’t choose to highlight.
But now, with stories like Brown’s and Richard-Ross’, hopefully more women will realize that they don’t have to abort their children to follow their dreams.