Five-time Olympic medalist Sanya Richards-Ross reveals in a new memoir that she had an abortion just weeks before sprinting in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games — a decision she says cost her more than a gold medal.
“Over the phone, we didn’t go into details,” the 32-year-old writes about the decision she made with fiancé (now husband) Aaron Ross to have the abortion. “As if not saying it would alleviate some of the guilt and the shame.”
Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God and Lifereleases on Tuesday and delves into her faith, her career as a runner and her romance with Ross, 34, a cornerback for the New York Giants.
In 2008, they were engaged and planned to marry in February 2010. The pregnancy was unexpected, especially as they both were beginning their professional athletic careers. Richards-Ross, proudly Jamaican-American, wanted Olympic gold.
“Everything I ever wanted seemed to be within reach,” she writes. “The culmination of a lifetime of work was right before me. In that moment, it seemed like no choice at all. 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. What would my sponsors, my family, my church, and my fans think of me?”
According to Chasing Grace, Ross wasn’t present during the procedure because he was at training camp. While it was done “quickly,” she couldn’t escape the emotional pain.
“I made a decision that broke me, and one from which I would not immediately heal,” she writes. “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 next day she flew to Beijing for the Olympics and prepared to win gold, even though her doctor recommended she avoid exercise for two weeks following the procedure. The night before her 300 meter race she couldn’t sleep and the next day her “confidence was diminishing.”
During the race, Richards-Ross got a cramp in her hamstring and came in at third place when she expected to win. She describes being “broken, physically and emotionally.”
In an interview with ESPN, she explained why she chose to write about her decision to have an abortion:
“The name of the book is called ‘Chasing Grace.’ Chasing is something I’ve been doing all my life.,” she said. “I’m chasing gold medals; I’m chasing records, and chasing the best version of myself. So, for me, if I didn’t share the toughest moment in my life where I felt God’s grace the most, it would be disingenuous to this journey. I think there are lots of young girls who experience this especially female athletes. I look forward to having more discussions about it and helping young women heal from it.”
Despite the toll the abortion took on her, she and her team later went on to win the 4×400 meter relay. Her career was also able to recover. She describes 2009 as one of her best years as a runner (she was named IAAF Female Athlete of the Year).
But the pain the abortion inflicted on her relationship took longer to heal, she writes. After a number of years of ignoring what had happened, she and her husband (they married in 2010) discussed their true feelings.
“I always harbored some resentment toward Ross. It was our mess-up, but I felt abandoned in the decision,” she writes. “It was like by not saying anything, neither agreeing nor opposing, he kept his conscience clear, but it wasn’t fair. We were in it together.”
She adds, “[Ross] explained to me that he was just as burdened by the decision as I was. He believed that our child in 2008 was a blessing we had rejected by always wanting to be in control.”
According to Chasing Grace, it was prayer and open conversation that healed their relationship with God and each other.
In February, the couple announced a new pregnancy exclusively with PEOPLE.
“Many parts of our lives have felt like a fairy tale, but this is our biggest blessing yet,” the couple told PEOPLE. “We are so excited to start a family and can’t wait to begin this new adventure!”
For Richards-Ross, sharing her joys and hardships are crucial.
“This book is my personal anthem and I hope readers realize they have greatness within to outlast the challenging stretches of every journey,” she told PEOPLE. “I hope to encourage people to stay the course and achieve their highest potential.”
The olympian-turned-author will also release two children’s books.