Despite the heavy rains that lashed the island since Friday, over a hundred Jamaicans, including the Minister of Sports Olivia Grange, the president of the Jamaica Olympic Association Mike Fennell, and the president of the Jamaica Administrative Athletics Association Dr Warren Blake, turned out for the launch of two books — Chasing Grace and Run With Me— by Jamaican-born, USA 400m World and Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross last Saturday.
The event was held at the Spanish Court Hotel and saw the 32-year-old make three separate donations, two to her former schools in Jamaica, and one to the Government of Jamaica.
The first presentation was made to Vaz Prep, which included athletic gear and 20 copies of her books. Richards-Ross represented Vaz at the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA) Athletics Championships from the age of seven to the age of 12, and was champion girl at those championships on a number of occasions — where her burgeoning career in the sport began.
Immaculate Conception High school was also a beneficiary of athletic gear from the Olympian, who spoke glowingly of the improvements the school has made at the annual Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Athletics Championships. Admitting to not having paid much attention to the school she went to for a year before migrating to the United States, Richards-Ross was delighted to make a contribution to the vastly improved track and field programme.
Franz Forde, the head coach at Immaculate, along with Class Two shot put gold medal winner Danielle Sloley were among those who collected on behalf of the Constant Spring Road-based school.
“It was an unexpected contribution,” said Forde. “For someone who only spent one year at an institution and still give back says a lot about her character. We really appreciate it,” said the grateful coach.
Another significant contribution made by the athlete-turned-author, was to the minister of sports of the running suit she wore when she won the Olympic gold medal at the Olympic Games in London in 2012. That suit, along with a pair of spikes and running shoes, were contributions to the Jamaica Sports Museum which is set to be built by the Government later this year.
Minister Grange, in accepting the gifts, urged other athletes to follow the lead of Richards-Ross in making similar type donations.
“We hope that athletes like Usain Bolt will follow your lead and also make donations to the sports museum. We also encourage ordinary Jamaicans who may have collected athletic gear to donate them to the museum, and they will receive full credit for it.”
Richards-Ross admitted to being naïve to the significance of the decision she made when she decided to run for her adopted country.
“I made the decision to run for the United States when I was 16 years old, and the first time I actually competed for them was at the World Junior Championships in Kingston in 2002. I was surprised and confused when the crowd booed me when my name was called.”
The 2009 World Champion says that she got used to it as the years went by and understood that it was more out of hurt than anything else why the fans reacted the way that they did.
“One of my favorite memories is the way the Jamaican fans reacted after my last performance at the Penn Relays. Most of them stood up and chanted USA, USA, when I took my victory lap, and in that moment I really felt the love and appreciation.”
Former national footballer and special advisor to the minister of sports, Allie McNab, who was also at the launch, said he was proud of the fact that Richards-Ross was never thought of as a drug cheat at any time during her career. She pointed to three significant factors that made her know she would never go down that road, despite the setbacks she had during her long career.
“I always remembered the Vaz Prep motto — “Honest Labour Bears A Lovely Face” — it is something we said every day at school, and my father always instilled discipline in me to work hard for what I wanted. I also remember the heartbreak I felt when Marion Jones was caught cheating. She was someone I looked up to and it hurt to find out that she was cheating.”
The 2012 Olympic Champion was delighted by the support she received from the public at the launch of her books on Saturday, and said it meant a lot to her to have Jamaica as a part of her book tour.
Chasing Grace is written for an adult audience, while Run with Me is written for children ages 8-12.