Four-time Olympic Gold medal winner Sanya Richards-Ross is known for her athleticism, tenacious work ethic, and breaking barriers in track and field. But now, she is on a journey to set a new standard for Black mothers to have the necessary support and resources to cultivate a healthy lifestyle in all aspects — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Through her organization MommiNation, and as a champion for change, her primary mission is to amplify the voices of Black mothers and children and create a safe space for them to be seen, heard, and recognized. A void she identified after giving birth to her son in 2017.
"Ironically, when you become a mom, it can feel somewhat of a lonely journey. Although I had my mom and my sister had just become a mom herself, I still felt there were things I was experiencing that they couldn't relate to," the 36-year-old said.
She continued, "I looked out into the world and thought, 'I don't feel like there is a community specific to supporting and highlighting the stories of Black moms.' And so I created this community because I felt when I was an athlete, I was most successful when I was in a community where I had people pouring into me and loving on me. I wanted to create this space to magnify the voices of Black moms and become a resource for Black moms."
21Ninety spoke more with Richards-Ross about creating her digital platform, MommiNation, defining success, parenting mantras, and the latest discussions surrounding athletes' mental health and wellness.
Dontaira Terrell: With motherhood, your body goes through so many changes. What is the best way for moms to fall in love with their bodies as they experience these various transformations?
Sanya Richards-Ross: It doesn't happen overnight. It's not easy. It's a process. At MommiNation, we think of our bodies as these beautiful vessels that can create life. What is more beautiful than that?
The most beautiful I've ever felt was when I was pregnant. I hate that there is this image of what the perfect body is, and all of us strive to have snapbacks. At MommiNation, we're not ignorant to the fact that all of that exists and all of us have a pull towards wanting to look like the images that we see. But, ultimately, we [at MommiNation] focus on the power of our mom bods. Realizing it's not about having the perfect size; it's about feeling good about yourself, putting the right foods into your bodies, and getting the rest you deserve.
That's the most important thing. We understand it's a journey and a process, but we really do try to uplift our mommies and remind them of the power of their bodies and not so much about what their bodies or bellies look like. It's about living in gratitude for being able to do one of the most amazing things that a woman can do, which is to create life.
DT: So, what would you say are the basic elements you can do to start listening to your body?
SRR: That's a great question! I think women instinctively know when something isn't right, and we cover it up by making excuses or saying to ourselves, 'nothing is wrong.' Ultimately, I think the most important thing is practice. Start your day off by having some quiet time with yourself, meditating and listening to your body, and then don't ignore the signs. If you feel like something isn't right, see a doctor or talk to someone that you trust if they've had a similar experience.
We are always moving so fast. Our minds are so cluttered and crowded with all of the information we consume and moving throughout our day-to-day. We aren't listening to ourselves. We don't give ourselves the space to hear the aches and pains from our bodies. Ultimately, it's taking the time to sit with our bodies and making it a practice. That's how you hear from your body.
I also think it's crucial for us as Black women and now for me as a mother to share our personal stories with our children. Often, things are hereditary, and we can save our daughters and our sons from the experiences that we had. I encourage you to talk to your mom, talk to your grandmother, ask them about their experiences in their twenties, thirties, and forties. And see if maybe there's something that you can do to be proactive about your health and well-being.
DT: Do you have any advice for women about the stages and phases of navigating friendships throughout the motherhood journey?
SRR: When we started MommiNation, we had over 25 moms blogging to share their different experiences because everybody's motherhood journey is different. For most of us, it is not what we expect or anticipate. Sometimes, it's the very opposite. The advice that I give to moms that I have received from mothers is to give yourself grace. I think we have this vision of how we're supposed to be and how our children will be. When that doesn't happen, it can be shattering. Motherhood does not come with a manual. You're always doing the best that you can in every stage of your motherhood journey.
I also think it's essential to have a mommy tribe. If you can connect and link with other mothers who have been there before or understand and relate to your experiences, I think that also truly helps. Ultimately, it's about taking it day by day, trusting the process, doing the best you can, and never neglecting yourself. It's important to always find time for yourself and fill your cup up. As a mom, you're constantly pouring and giving. We hear it all the time, but you can't pour from an empty cup.
DT: If you had to choose one parenting mantra for yourself, what would it be?
SRR: It would be the one that we came up with for MommiNation. "It takes a village to raise a child and a nation to support a mommy." With me, it's been a blessing to find this incredible nation of moms who I can lean on and share stories with. They inspire me every single day. That's something I feel is important as moms. We don't have to go at it alone. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to lean into your support system.
DT: Let's pivot for a moment and discuss how do you define success?
SR: Wow. That is a really good question! I define success as fully walking in my purpose. Throughout my career, I've been very fortunate on the track to fully walk in my purpose and to become the best 400-meter runner that I could be and stand on top of the podium. Now that I've had all of that success and gone through so many things, I've realized it wasn't so much about the money that my husband and I made or the medals and the rings.
It was being able to live out this dream. I was nine years old when I said I'd be an Olympic champion, and I went through so much until I actually stood on top of the podium. It's that fulfillment of self and purpose that I think makes one successful. Whatever that calling is on your life, when you're able to do it at the highest level, I feel that is when you've reached success.
DT: There's been a lot of conversations about athletes and mental health. What kind of self-talk did you use to settle your mind and focus when it was time to compete?
SRR: I started working with a sports psychologist midway through my career, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. As much as we emphasize and focus on getting a great coach, when you get to the Olympics, what's going to be most important is between your ears, what is happening in your mind. He taught me so many valuable tips that helped bring out the best in me in high-pressure situations. One thing he taught me is that negative self chatter is natural. We all feel self-doubt. Obviously, you don't try to have that pop-up, but it just happens.
Sometimes a truth comes up, and instead of acknowledging the truth, we try to say, 'no, it didn't happen.' And the mind just goes crazy. I learned that embracing that truth takes away the power of negativity. But when you fight it, the body is in turmoil because the body knows your truth. When negative self chatter comes up, I acknowledge it, but I beat it down with positivity. That is how you embrace any negativity that may come up. Turn it into a positive until it quiets itself down because it's not going to keep rearing its ugly head forever. Then focus on those positive things, step out there and execute whatever you've been working on, and believe that you can do it.