Sanya Richard-Ross arrives at our offices surprisingly dressed down. Considering this is the girl who won her Gold medal race in gold Chanel earrings, I was expecting a decked-out display of her personal fashions. Instead, she’s dressed in a chic but simple designer blouse by Primary, leggings and Chanel sandals–it’s easy and effortlessly stylish. She’s spent the last week attending her personal picking of NY Fashion Week Spring 2013 Runway shows, and after our interview she’s heading down to Florida, where she will be honored at her husband’s season-opening game, but not before a quick stop by the White House—the President would like to meet her.
But behind the press opportunities, Presidential congratulatory meetings, cover-story photo shoots, Sanya Richard-Ross is–dare I say–a normal girl. She’s grotesquely over-packed and despite being in Olympic shape, she and her publicist (who’s also her cousin), are completely overwhelmed at the thought of carrying their luggage on to the train by themselves. They giggle at the advice Sanya’s mom gave them a few moments earlier (delivered in their best Jamaican accents of course): “Get a porter, there’ll be one at the train station!”
“At Grand Central?” I ask.
“Yes!” They’re cracking up. “She swears they have porters!”
“Good luck with that,” I chide.
Soon, we begin chatting like we’re two girlfriends catching up, and before I know it, she’s telling me about the time she checked an older lady for pushing up on her then fiancé, NFL Cornerback Aaron Ross. “It was right after they won the Superbowl…these ladies were taking pictures, so this older lady comes up and puts her leg literally on him!,” she recalls. “I looked at her and said, ‘Do you think that was appropriate?’ Ross was so embarrassed, he looked at me like ‘oh my gosh babe don’t do that!’” She laughs, confessing that she’s the jealous type and has no problem speaking up, “I don’t care if you’re 2 or 82, if you’re making me uncomfortable or pushing up too much, I’m a tell you.” #SanyaShrug.
She and Aaron met their freshman year of college and have been together ever since. On their first date, they went to church. “A Christian man was really important to me – my relationship with my Lord and Savior comes first.”
I’m liking this girl, she’s the type of woman I’d actually take relationship advice from, so I dig deeper, hoping to learn a few things from the superstar athlete who shares her stardom effortlessly with her famous (and, might I add, quite attractive) husband. She says they make sure to let each other shine in their own arenas, never detracting from each other’s success. “I think we’re both stars in our own right. I think that’s one of the things to that makes our relationships successful, we don’t compete for the spotlight, we allow each other to shine whenever the time is right.” For those who say there isn’t enough room for two stars in a relationship, the Ross’ prove the contrary.
But independent women out there take note, there’s only one head of the Ross household. “I think that anything with two heads is a monster, and there has to be one head of the household, and it has to be your husband. I think being submissive is the best trait a woman can have, you have to trust that your husband (or your fiancé or your boyfriend, if he’s the right guy) won’t make a decision that’s going to affect you or him in a negative way. I allow my husband to be the man and lead our household. If he makes a mistake I’m going to support him 100%.” I’m now shaking my head in that, ‘you go, girl’ kind of way.
There is no doubt how much she loves her husband, you can see it her smile when she speaks about him. It’s an emotion of sheer joy only closely mirrored when she begins to talk about her Olympic medal wins. She collected two medals in London this summer, bringing her total metal count over her three Olympic games to five. But it was her individual Gold medal win in the 400 meter in London that captured the hearts of Americans and the covers of every newspaper in the nation.
“It was utter joy–it was a dream I had since I was a little girl to be an Olympic champion and to actually accomplish that. The best picture is [the one] I kind of have my head back and my head up really thanking God that I had that moment, because I don’t take for granted that it actually happened.”
And for good reason. After a heartbreaking bronze medal finish in Beijing in 2008, Richards-Ross’ road to Gold in London was plagued with obstacles. She suffered a serious injury and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that made her recovery quite difficult. Making it to London was a long and unsure journey, and once there, she was determined not to let gold slip away. “A lot of people toil and work really hard and never get to experience that level of success,” she says.”I was very appreciative.”
As the national anthem played in London, she says he realized she had finally achieved her lifelong dream. “They’re playing the national anthem just for you, you’re like, this is real, I did it! It just seemed like it happened so quickly, the song was over in, like, a second! I’m like, I know the national anthem is longer than that! But it’s just like you want to be in that moment for ever. It just goes by so quickly and you have all these memories of all the hard work and the disappointments, and all of it is just worth it when you’re on top of the podium.”
CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SANYA RICHARDS-ROSS BELOW:
Her second time on the podium in London, she was surrounded by teammates Allyson Felix, Francena McCorory, DeeDee Trotter as they claimed Gold in the 4×400 meter relay. “I could feel that it was something special about my teammates and I wanted to encourage it,” she says. “I know that in the world that we live in we’re also competing against each other, but I wanted to put that to the side and this was something bigger than what we realized, this was the first Olympic games, where women were represented from every country in the world and so to be a part of that was epic. ” The US women also won the 4×100 meter relay, shattering the world record in an impressive win led by her teammate Carmelita Jeter.
And for all the negative hair talk that swirled about Gabby Douglas on her quest to Olympic stardom in gymnastics; there was equally positive chatter about the hair of the US women’s track & field team–particularly Richards-Ross, who draws comparisons to legend Flo Jo (Florence Joyner Griffith), who was known both for her athleticism and her signature style. “I love the comparison!” says Richards-Ross. “I looked up to Flo Jo a great deal growing up, and I loved how she would have her hair done and always looked beautiful while she was kicking everybody’s butt and taking names. I’m really grateful that people see me in that light.”
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At this point in the interview I wonder if I’m doing that “Black girl” thing—I’m talking to an Olympic athlete about hair and boys, but Richards-Ross is delightful. It’s clear that she’s a girls’ girl, and talk of makeup and relationships is far more exciting to her than detailing her training regimen. Even once we get to pre-race routines, we still end up talking about beauty. While some athletes listen to hardcore hip-hop, or participate in superstitious rituals, for Richards-Ross it’s as simple as tapping her lady power. “I sit on the floor and I do my makeup. I put my face on and for a moment I forget about everything. It makes me feel like I’m getting my superwoman on.”
Her commitment to style and beauty is more than just a personal interest. Three years ago she opened a salon with her sister in Austin, Texas, and most recently they’ve launched their own hair extensions line, “Gemini Strands,” making their foray in to the billion-dollar Black hair industry that is dominated by Koreans. For the sisters the business venture just makes sense. Richards-Ross is a fan of extensions. She uses them to protect her hair though her rigorous training seasons. Looking good empowers her strength and she’s passionate about Black women embracing their health and their beauty. “I feel it’s a great thing for young girls to know, if you’re passionate about fashion or beauty you don’t have to have too separate sides,” she says. “You don’t have to have to be the track girl or the soccer girl or the basketball girl, you can combine those two things and still feel very confident.”
And though notions of superwoman-like perfection have sometimes negatively plagued Black women, when she says it, it feels powerful and inspiring. Not yet 30 years old and Richards-Ross has perfectly positioned herself to ‘have it all’—husband, family, entrepreneurial success, Olympic gold and, of course, a reality show in the works. What more can a girl ask for? She laughs,”I can’t wait to go shopping!”
Watch Sanya Win Olympic Gold Below: