Sanya Richards-Ross (L), Amanda McGrory (C) and Christie
NEW YORK – When Sanya Richards-Ross was 9 years old, she penned a note to her teacher saying she would be an Olympic gold medalist.
“I was born in Jamaica, so track and field and soccer are the two most popular sports,” she said. “I started running when I was 7. When the Olympics are happening, a small country like Jamaica shuts down. The center of the city has a big-screen TV and we’re all watching. And I wanted to be the person everyone was watching; I wanted to be an Olympian.”
Richards-Ross’ mom would pull out the letter from time to time to remind her daughter of her Olympic dream. Somewhere along the line it was misplaced, likely in one of the family’s moves. But four Olympic medals — including an elusive individual gold, for the 400-meter race in London — have taken its place.
“It took some time, and a lot of hard work, to finally get the individual gold, but it’s definitely paid off,” Richards-Ross said.
Now Richards-Ross is inspiring the next generation to follow in her golden cleats. Through USA Track & Fields’ “Win With Integrity” program, she helps educate students, parents, teachers and coaches at schools around the United States about the positive results that can come from a physically active, drug-free lifestyle.
So when Team USA sponsor Citi invited her to join its “Every Step of the Way” program and nominate a sports program that it would benefit, she didn’t hesitate.
“What I love about the ‘Win With Integrity’ program is that it is not just focused on athletics, it’s about being a champion in any aspect of life you choose,” Richards-Ross said. “When I was that age I wish I had had someone to talk to and ask these questions of. We tell them about what it took for us to get into university, to make our way through the sport.
“As an Olympian you learn so many great life lessons that you can use to help anyone. It’s all about helping kids make the right decisions to fulfill their potential and their goals.”
In April, Citi announced a $500,000 donation to the U.S. Olympic Committee to launch the “Every Step of the Way program” to benefit future Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls and athletes of all ages in communities across the country. Through activity on Facebook and Twitter, the American people helped allocate the donation, represented by 50 million ThankYou Points — the currency of Citi ThankYou Rewards — to the sport programs.
Richards-Ross was one of 13 athletes of Team Citi, selected because they exemplify the spirit and mission of the “Every Step of the Way” program. All told, they own 32 Olympic and Paralympic medals — winning a combined 11 Olympic and Paralympic medals in London — and represent a range of Olympic and Paralympic sports: swimming, soccer, tennis, triathlon, track and field, gymnastics and sitting volleyball.
Bruce Beck speaks at Citi's Every Step of the Way Culmination Event
At Citi’s flagship branch at 53rd Street and Park Avenue last week in New York City, the “Every Step of the Way” program culminated with a panel discussion moderated by WNBC Lead Sports Anchor Bruce Beck and featuring Richards-Ross and two other members of Team Citi: soccer defender Christie Rampone, a four-time Olympian and gold (2004, 2008, 2012) and silver (2000) medalist; and two-time Paralympian Amanda McGrory, a winner of gold, silver and bronze medals (2008) in track and field.
Rampone’s “Every Step of the Way” allocation will benefit the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s “Soccer for Success” program providing free after-school soccer programming to children in underserved communities, while McGrory’s will go to Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), which identifies Paralympic hopefuls and provides them with coaching and resources.
Each sport program will receive funding ranging from approximately $25,000 to $45,000 based on the specific need identified by Team Citi Athletes for the “Every Step of the Way” program.
“Win With Integrity” will dedicate the funds to help create track and field kits to help schools start, or continue, their own sports programs.
“It’s brand new, so I haven’t seen anything yet, but I assume we will be leaving behind starting blocks, tape measures, maybe some hurdles,” Richards-Ross said. “I think USA Track & Field is always thinking about how we can make the program better, and I was just informed about the kits today, so that’s exciting.”
As for her own future, Richards-Ross — who is married to Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross — has yet to make any decisions on whether she will continue to compete through the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“My dad always told me, ‘Set goals, but no matter what happens, enjoy the moment,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s just been a whirlwind since I’ve been back (from London). So many people tuned in and watched it; everyone comes up to me and says how inspiring it was to see me win.
“I see myself in Rio in 2016, but I’m not putting too much thought into it yet. It takes a lot of preparation and dedication, and, of course, I have to stay healthy.”Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Lynn Rutherford is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.