I'm not typically one to idolize athletes, but I've admired Williams sisters since they began to dominate women's tennis. Unapologetic gamers, Venus and Serena are completely badass without being bitchy. I think they're fabulous.
In 2011, Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, a type of autoimmune disorder that causes dry eyes, mouth, joint pain and swelling. Her story in this video will sound familiar to so many of us: vague symptoms she couldn't pin down and debilitating fatigue (she described it as feeling "beat up"). I think what is especially interesting is that, despite being an athlete at the highest levels with presumably the best care available, it still took four years for her to get a diagnosis. In that clip, just a matter of weeks after she got the news, she explained how she was relieved to finally have an answer, and I love the way she called treatment an "opportunity." I can certainly appreciate the way she recognized the uncertainty that lay ahead (this video was from two years ago, and she had just pulled out of the 2011 US Open), but was determined to stay positive.
Now Venus is back again this year, and she entered in both the singles and doubles (with Serena) tournaments. I'm a huge fan of any American, but of course I feel a little more solidarity and affection for her. Though I'm a horribly uncoordinated, very recreational athlete, I relate to her struggles a little bit. So my heart ached for her when she lost on Wednesday in the 2nd round of the singles after a tough three hour match. But damn, she's 33 years old in a sport full of 20-somethings, and she still plays just as hard when she's ranked at 60 as she did when she was ranked 1st. That's girl power, and I love it.
She came back from that match to play doubles with Serena the next day. After dropping the first set 7-6, they beat their Spanish competitors and looked like they were having a blast doing it. I watched that match curled up under a blanket, on our couch, barely able to move. I am definitely one of the lucky ones who is responding very well to medication, but Thursday had been a really rough day. I was up most of the night with our youngest (growing pains...ugh!) and suffice it to say that no sleep and sharing a sofa with a six year old can be hard on a body that needs some extra considerations. My normally mildly achy elbows felt like they were on fire most of the day, I could barely straighten my knees for the better part of the morning, and my hands just wouldn't work. I felt so miserable that I actually left after dropping off Wes at his baseball game that night (and of course, he went 2-3 with two doubles and four RBIs). I have never done that before, and though I normally refuse to feel sorry for myself, I was totally having a bit of a pity party. I spent much of that day on the verge of tears because the pain was so bad, and that just doesn't happen to me.
As I watched Venus play with Serena a day after losing a grueling match, I couldn't help but to feel inspired. In my first post I mentioned how I desperately searched for information for athletes with autoimmune illnesses and had trouble finding anything for a while. But here was one on TV, showing everyone that we can choose how we approach our challenges, we don't need to feel victimized, and we can regroup and try again after a bad day. For her, it meant playing tennis in one of the greatest venues in all of sports. For me, it was taking a much-needed rest day (along with some extra Advil), and then coming back this morning to run faster and more comfortably than I have in a very long time. As I watched Venus, I also realized that she is a tennis player, and her condition is secondary to her career; it's not her identity. Luckily for all of us, no matter what the state of our respective illness, we are the ones who remain in control of our own definitions. We may not always like the way we feel physically, we never have a say in what our immune systems choose to do to us, but we are ultimately the ones who paint the big picture. That's what I'm finding comforting today.
Venus and Serena play again this afternoon. Tournament and TV schedule can be found here. Let's show them some support!