Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes


A conversation with U.S. Olympic gold medalist Ruth Riley

posted by Chad Bonham

Ruth Riley with her gold medal following the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team’s undefeated performance at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens (Courtesy of Ruth Riley)

Ruth Riley won’t be a member of the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team at the Olympics in London this year, but watching some of her close friends and former teammates (i.e. Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diane Taurasi) from the 2004 Olympics in Athens brings back fond memories of her brush with Olympic glory.

Now playing for the Chicago Sky, Riley is still going strong in her 12th year in the WNBA and she remains one of six women to win an Olympic gold medal, a WNBA title and an NCAA title (although Maya Moore will join those ranks should Team USA take gold again this year).

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Riley talks about what it took to get to the Olympics, how she relished her role as “12th woman,” and how the experience taught her a powerful lesson about humility:

Chad Bonham: When did you start to understand what was going to be required of you in order to fulfill your Olympic dream?

Ruth Riley: There was never an exact time period that caused me to understand what was going to be required, rather it was because of my work ethic and training that I put myself in that position for it to be attained. I was never the most talented athlete. I have always had the dream of playing in the Olympics and then from a young age I began to train with that ultimate goal in mind.

Bonham: What was the most difficult circumstance you had to overcome during your journey as an elite international competitor?

Ruth Riley competes against a Korean opponent at a 2006 international tournament in Australia (Courtesy of USA Basketball Photos)

Riley: Being content yet confident in whatever role the team needed me to play. I knew my role as the 12th person on the USA team was not to be a significant contributor in the games, yet I had to figure out what it was that I could do to help our team be successful and at the same time be prepared and confident if I was called to play a greater role at any time.

Bonham: How did your faith help you through that situation?

Riley: My faith teaches me to work at everything with all my heart as if I was working for the Lord and not for man and to clothe myself in humility, not thinking of myself higher than others.

Bonham: Can you think of a specific story where humility helped you through that time?

Riley: Every day in practice I had the opportunity to guard Lisa Leslie, one of the best players in the world. It would have been very easy for me to just accept the fact that I was not going to play very much, and just go through the motions. My faith calls me to work as hard as I can, and because of that, I was helping Lisa and the rest of our starters to prepare the best they could for the challenging games that they would face. I tried my best to exhibit humility and put the ultimate goal of helping my team win a gold medal ahead of any personal desires I might have had.

Bonham: How do you hope that your life and the public example you’ve shown inspires athletes, young people, women and sports fans?

Riley: After enjoying so much success in the sport that I love, I only hope that people remember me for how I have been able to use that platform to make a positive difference in the world. I pray that my story gives young women the confidence that they too can overcome whatever obstacles might be in their way and accomplish the desires of their hearts. Mostly, I hope that people see me living out my faith by how hard I compete and by treating others with the utmost respect and love.

Check out more from Ruth Riley in Chad Bonham’s latest book Glory of the Games that features 18 past and present Olympians such Shannon Miller, Tamika Catchings, Josh Davis, Ryan Hall, Dave Johnson and Kevin Durant discussing various biblical principles that have helped them succeed as elite international athletes.



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