Basketball star Brittney Griner says she had to “dig deep” to get through her 10-month detention in Russia.
The American, 32, was held on drug charges in February 2022 after authorities at a Moscow airport found cannabis oil in her luggage.
“I’m no stranger to hard times,” the Phoenix Mercury centre said in her first news conference since her return.
Houston-born Griner added: “Just digging deep, honestly, you’re going to be faced with adversities throughout your life. This was a pretty big one.
“You find a way to grind it out, put your head down and just keep going and keep going forward. You can never stand still.”
Griner, who rejoined Phoenix on a one-year deal in February, played for them for over nine seasons before she was detained in Russia just prior to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
She spent 10 months in Russian custody before the US government – under pressure from activists, politicians and those close to Griner – struck a deal to release her for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been in US custody for 12 years.
The elaborate exchange involved two private planes bringing the pair to Abu Dhabi airport from Moscow and Washington, and then flying them home.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and eight-time WNBA All-Star, urged other Americans currently detained abroad to “stay strong, keep fighting, don’t give up”.
“It hurts because no-one should be in those conditions,” she added.
Griner said her agent had been in contact with the family of US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was detained last month on espionage charges – allegations he denies.
Earlier on Thursday, the foreign ministry in Moscow confirmed Russian authorities had denied Gershkovich a consular visit.
“Just keep waking up,” said Griner. “Find a little routine and stick to the routine as best as you can. That’s what helped me.
“Just keep pushing because we’re not going to stop. We’re not going to stop fighting. We’re not going to stop bringing awareness to everyone that’s left behind right now.”
She is now looking forward to the new WNBA season, which starts for Phoenix against Los Angeles Sparks on 20 May before their first home game against Chicago Sky a day later.
Griner thanked Phoenix, her friends and family, as well as US President Joe Biden for their work towards her release, saying she was aware of their efforts while in prison.
“It made me have hope,” she added.