Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross is certainly one to watch at this summer’s Games. She’s expected to win gold in London in the women’s 400m race and will be a key member of Team USA’s 4x400m relay. Back during the 2008 summer Olympics, Richards-Ross left Beijing with a heavy heart and a bronze medal after a seized hamstring cost her the gold. She credits her incredible bond with her husband, NFL cornerback Aaron Ross, with inspiring her to keep going after such a devastating loss.
The pair, who met as students attending the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, were married on February 26, 2010, after pacing their love and dating for seven years to allow each other the space necessary to pursue their individual sports dreams. Richards-Ross tells us that marriage was very much worth the wait, and their relationship has only grown stronger since they tied the knot. They’ve had plenty of success in both their relationship and careers. This year, Ross won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants, and Richards-Ross won the 400m at the Olympic trials, tying a long-standing meet record to qualify for the 2012 team.
It’s hard to imagine how two elite athletes ever find the time to forge a bond as strong as the one these lovebirds share, but their love has only thrived throughout their career ups and downs. Her battle with the rare Behcet’s disease and frequent disappointing finishes at major events has only forced her to work harder, and Aaron has continued to have her back. As Richards-Ross prepares to go for the gold, she’s thrilled that her man will be there to give her pep talks and cheer her on from the bleachers. We talked with the happy couple about the importance of balance within a marriage and the lessons love has taught them.
ESSENCE.COM: What has marriage taught you thus far?
SANYA RICHARDS-ROSS: We were together for seven years before we got married; we had a great connection and I wanted to marry him — all that good stuff. After we got married, that bond became closer. You really feel like you have a partner for life. I think a lot of times, with women, we have insecurities, like you don’t want to do anything wrong. But with marriage, you’re able to really let your guard down. You feel more secure in your relationship, and you know that nothing is going to be a big blowup because you’ve promised each other that you will work on it for life. Marriage has definitely given me the sense of security that I’ve always wanted to have with Ross.
AARON ROSS: The main thing marriage has taught me is that you really have to grow with your partner. You have to respect their issues and know that comes with the package. You have to respect them, grow with it, and really mold one another.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you inspire each other?
RICHARDS-ROSS: We inspire each other through how we use our words. Because our careers are so similar, and we’re both elite athletes, it’s easy for Ross, when I’m down or I don’t really feel like doing it, to remind me of where I want to be. He’ll say, “Remember last time, when you didn’t get that gold medal? Remember how much it hurt? Do this to get to your ultimate goal.” So, we inspire each other definitely through our words, and also, through the experiences that we’ve had together. I remember when I didn’t win the gold medal in Beijing, and my hubby wasn’t able to be with me. He was the first person I wanted to see. I flew home to see him in New York. Just his presence inspired me to know that I can do it again. We’ve grown together through having those experiences.
ESSENCE.COM: How are you preparing for the meets in London? Are there any pre-ceremony rituals you share?
ROSS: I have a chance to go there for her semifinals and her final race. Right before she gets out on the track, she asks me for my last words, I say whatever is on my heart, and she gets out there and executes.
ESSENCE.COM: What advice do you have for couples who struggle with long distance and balance in their marriages?
RICHARDS-ROSS: Really enjoy the moments that you have together. For Ross and I, whenever we spend time together we really never fight because we know we’re not going to have that moment often. Try to really enjoy those moments when you have them. Don’t fight about silly things. Don’t leave each other mad. Whatever issues you have, fix them and make up. Always leave each other happy, no matter what. Think about the experiences you had together.
ROSS: Remember that she’s your best friend. You don’t like to stay mad at your friend, right? That’s my number one advice.
Watch Richards-Ross compete in Round 1 of the Women’s 400m race on Friday, August 3, at 7 a.m.; Round 1 of the Women’s 200m race on Monday, August 6, at 2:20 p.m.; and Round 1 of the Women’s 4x400m relay on Friday, August 10, at 2:10 p.m.