Life is a journey, not a destination, right?
Or is it a marathon and not a sprint?
But what about when a sprinter is destined to represent the United States at the Olympics and her personal choices alter her course?
Of course, I’m talking about Sha’Carri Richardson, the sprinting supernova who crushed the 100-meter Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon last month. And if ya don’t already know, Richardson has since been suspended for one month after testing positive for cannabis. The suspension means she won’t compete in the 100-meter Olympic race, and may not participate in the Tokyo Games at all.
**UPDATE** Since publishing this, it’s been declared that Sha’Carri Richardson was not selected for the Olympic relay team
A lot of folks in my little corner of the internet have expressed feelings about this.
To my shock and pleasure, most of the anger I’ve observed is directed at the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), not Richardson herself. I should point out that my corner is inhabited by a large population of successful women in the cannabis industry and runners from all walks of life.
How I feel about Sha’Carri’s suspension
As something of a mouthpiece for female athletes who use cannabis, I feel called to throw my two cents in.
The way I see it, the praise for Richardson’s choice to prioritize self-care over meeting expectations, the call for cannabis’s removal from the USADA’s list of banned substances, and the demand to see her run, anyway — these are signs of progress toward a more compassionate culture.
So much has changed since Steve Prefontaine blazed the track at The University of Oregon. Athletes are under an increasing amount of pressure, not only to perform but to represent an ideal that no human can embody. Who can sprint across a finish line carrying the weight of expectations of an entire nation on her shoulders? Is that even possible?
Then along came Sha’Carri Richardson, with her long nails, lashes, and orange hair. Leaning so hard into her own self-expression, Sha’Carri would stand out even if she wasn’t the fastest woman in America, which, BTW, she still is.
And that’s how I see her, whether she toes any line in Tokyo or not. She’s already left such a deep impression on women’s running, there’s no going back.
With that said, I didn’t joint the rallying call to let her run.
Because, like it or not, everyone knows cannabis is on the USADA’s list of banned substances. Richardson knew what she was compromising when she decided to use weed. According to interviews, she used cannabis in Oregon, where it’s been legal for years, after learning about her biological mother’s death.
IMHO — legally purchasing a plant-based product that’s been scientifically proven to alleviate anxiety is one of the more responsible things a 21-year old who’s already under enormous amount of pressure can do in that situation!!!
But still, I’m not signing any petitions to let her race in the Tokyo Olympics. That doesn’t mean I won’t cheer her on if she makes it there!
She’s an adult. She made this decision. Now, she’s accepting responsibility for it, and quite gracefully, too!
I think she said it best, herself:
Yes. She’s human, and so are you. I don’t know about you, but if my mom just passed away, I’d prrrrrobably rather do some bong rips and cry than compete in a high-pressure competition on the other side of the world.
No one I pay attention to has condemned Richardson for using cannabis (bless this glorious little bubble in which I live), but I’m sure some people out there are. I assume there’s a whole population who are laying all kinds of shame on this woman…
and the way she’s handling it shows more maturity than I could muster at age 30, much less 21.
On a separate, but related note…
Why is cannabis still on the list of banned substances?
I don’t have the answer and have yet to read anything that provides a satisfactory explanation. (Have you? Do share!)
Last summer, I was interviewed by Women & Weed magazine for an article about cannabis use in female athletes. I remember the journalist asking me if I thought cannabis was a performance enhancing drug. My answer didn’t make the cut, so I’ll share it with you now:
I’m not qualified to say whether it is or it isn’t. (Journalists hate hearing this!) I’m, not a physician, fitness expert, or elite athlete.
I’ve also never showed up to a race high because I feared the opposite — that eating weed would be detrimental to my performance. That I might get lost on the trail or decide to forego the race in favor of watching the clouds go by…
I also never used cannabis the night before a track workout — when I’d meet my friend at 5:30 am and make my body move as fast as it could go — for fear it would slow me down or dull my edge.
What I can say is that I believe using cannabis throughout my training has made me a stronger runner overall. It helped relieve the boredom of flat long runs on rail trails, reduced tissue inflammation, and facilitated the rest and recovery I needed so much, yet struggled to allow myself. I think any athlete can benefit from these effects of cannabis.
So, although I don’t have all the answers — or any — it seems to me that the rules need to change. If there’s no proven performance-enhancing benefit to using cannabis, why not take it off the banned substances list!?
It’s 2021! Years have passed since the powers that were have admitted that the primary purpose of criminalizing marijuana was to imprison Black people! Why is bullshit like this still happening???
Wake up and smell the flowers, people!
Okay, now I need to go run off some anger.
Anyway, in conclusion, Sha’Carri Richardson is a superstar with or without the Tokyo Gold and breaking stupid, antiquated rules is still breaking rules.
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