On Feb. 23, Texas-raised track star Sha’Carri Richardson visited UConn as part of the “Justice Now!” series hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government for Black History Month. Richardson, interviewed by USG president Mason Holland, spoke on her experiences as a Black female athlete in 21st century America.
“Track is my job, and it’s my love, my passion…” said Richardson.
Richardson had a love for track from an early age. As a child, she looked at her mother’s medals and became inspired to pursue track-and-field herself. She started training at six years old and proved to be a natural-born sprinter. After first attempting the 200-meter dash, she knew track was the sport for her.
In 2019, she broke two junior world records as a freshman at Louisiana State University and only continued to make waves in the track world from there. At the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she won first place in both of her events, the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. At the Miramar Invitational in Florida, she ran the 100-meter dash in an outstanding 10.72 seconds and officially became the sixth-fastest woman in the world. In 2020, she qualified for the recent Tokyo Summer Olympics.
As she spoke, Richardson emphasized her love and support for Black women and all women everywhere.
“Black women are the backbone of this country,” said Richardson. “We are doing so much and given so little credit.”
It was clear that Richardson takes tremendous pride in being a Black female athlete, which makes her a great role model. She wants to see Black women succeeding and thriving, and hopes to empower all Black women to achieve their dreams as she had done.
When asked about Black History Month and how to make a difference, she said, “Educate yourself, listen, let people know the truth whether it makes them uncomfortable. We have to have those uncomfortable conversations.”
Richardson shines in the spotlight at any track competition not only because of her speed, but also for her style. With bright, colorful hair and long nails painted to perfection, all eyes are always on her. (She notes that she doesn’t wear a full face of makeup like some claim, only lashes.) Richardson loves to stand out, but because experimenting with different running uniforms is so limited, she has to play around with what she can — which is her hair and nails.
“If I don’t win this race, Imma still be the cutest one there,” said Richardson, jokingly.
Richardson made the point that track is a truly enjoyable sport to watch, and there is so much more to it than the Olympics. She mentioned that she is looking forward to the world championships, an event that is taking place in the U.S. for the first time in history. Her utter passion for the sport is yet another thing that makes her so inspiring to fans, and what draws in more people to watch track for entertainment. When asked if she would rather have a gold medal or to break a world record, the answer was plain and simple — she would much rather break a world record. A lot of people out there can say they have won a gold medal, but very few can say that they’ve broken a world record.
Richardson’s mother heartbreakingly passed away just one week before her qualifying race for the 2020 Olympics. On June 28, 2021, she was put on a month-long suspension by the United States Anti-Doping agency due to a positive THC urine test she had submitted. Richardson stated that marijuana was used to deal with the painful loss of her mother along with the stress of the impending Olympics. There have been many debates over the use of marijuana insports, and whether athletes should be penalized for using it. When asked about the issue, Richardson said she is determined to express the truth no matter what.
“The only thing I want to put out is the truth,” she said.
Beyond the controversy, Richardson continues to thrive as an athlete and as a person. She admits that she likes to keep things private, and she notes that it is difficult to be launched into the spotlight where every move is monitored by the public eye.
While Richardson loves proving herself on the track, she also finds her off-the-track rituals very important. She talked about her focus on mental health and spirituality, and how she dedicates time and energy completely to herself. She encouraged listeners to do the same. This self-work is an essential part of an athlete’s career. Beyond the excruciating physical labor, the mental labor of practicing and competing is often overlooked. As a young athlete of color, it is important that Richardson is aware of the importance of mental health to ensure her success in the future.
What made this session so special was watching Richardson carry herself with such grace and hearing how she deals with the issues that have come up during her career, and how she perseveres as the strong woman she is. Getting to see her personality shine through her well-formed responses made Richardson appear as a person, not just an athlete, and therefore all the more impressive.
“Real recognize real,” she said.