Venus Williams bares all
The tennis star opens up about dealing with Sjogren's syndrome in the Body Issue
ESPN The Magazine 2014 Body Issue: Venus Williams Feature
Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will be featured in this year's edition of ESPN The Magazine's The Body Issue, hitting stands July 11. A complete list of athletes featured, including 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tomas Berdych, will be announced Wednesday on ESPN.com.
Williams talked with reporter Morty Ain about what it was like to pose nude, and what it's taken to get her body back in the game:
Oh man, this is the real deal. It didn't dawn on me until right when I walked on set that I would have to be without clothes. If I would have thought about it before, there may have been a little less of a chance.
In the past, I would train until I died. Now, because of Sjogren's syndrome, I have to be careful. If I train too hard, then I won't be able to do anything the next day. There would be times when I'd park my car at home and I fell asleep behind the wheel because I was so tired! It's a balance between pushing myself as much as I can and being reasonable about what I can achieve and what my body will tolerate.
You are so tired it hurts. At my worst point, I wasn't able to play tennis at all. Just the whole quality of my life was compromised -- and uncomfortable. It's very difficult to understand unless you've gone through it. Especially as a professional athlete, there's never any acceptable excuse. You push and you push and you'll die on the court if you have to, but you get it done. The whole experience is just foreign as an athlete. You have to accept that you're never going to be 100 percent. So, how do you get past those roadblocks?
I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" the challenge. But I'm up for the challenge. Sjogren's syndrome has been a life-changing experience, that's for sure.
I give my dad a lot of credit for changing the game. He found so many new techniques that we brought out onto the court. He's the mastermind behind it; we were just the ones out there doing it.
Derrick Rose never played tennis before. But of course, he learned quickly. Then I had to play him in basketball. We were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. And I don't play basketball at all. I can't even dribble. Next thing you know, he did a dunk. I'm thinking "Are you kidding me?!" So it was my turn and I just ran and closed my eyes and I jumped. I wish I had the footage and I hope it's out there somewhere, but I guess I got up. Derrick was just shaking his head like "What?" I need to see the footage! I haven't tried to dunk since then.
I had such a lackadaisical attitude toward being tall. I never really used to care; it just always helped me with my game. Sometimes women who are taller aren't comfortable with it, but I love being tall.
You never know where inspiration is going to come from. Earlier in my career I could never beat this player, Jana Novotna. I remember playing her and someone in the audience yelled, "Hit it to her forehand!!!" And so I hit it to her forehand, and what do you know, she collapsed. I thank that fan, whoever that was.
I wish I could retain muscle easier. If I don't go to the gym for a week, I just get thinner and thinner. My body just doesn't want it. I'm full of oil, I guess.
My motto personally has always been: Look Good, Play Well. I think there's a connection with what you wear. If you don't feel good about what you're wearing, you aren't going to feel confident and you aren't going to be able to concentrate.
You have to figure out ways to win when you don't feel well. It makes me creative, that's for sure.”
No. More. Biking. It was me, Serena and our physical therapist and we said, "OK, we're going to mix it up! We're going to ride bikes around the neighborhood!" So I got on the bike the first day and I stopped short and flew 15-20 feet off the bike. I don't know how I came out of it without at least breaking a wrist or a rib. After that, one by one, we all got into an accident. Serena got skinned to the white on her shoulder and her face. Our physical therapist fell into a ditch. We're like, this isn't good for our careers. We don't know how to ride bikes. We just know how to get into accidents!
Everyone is better now. Before I turned pro, that level of power and athleticism was limited to a few players, where now it's really across the board. Players really believe they can win now no matter who they play. I know it wasn't there when I first started. I think the players are more mentally focused, more athletic, powerful, all of those things.
I don't like being defeated by anything. It makes me creative, that's for sure. You have to figure out ways to win when you don't feel well. You have to find different avenues in order to get your top health level, and you have to be tough. You can't make any excuses, even though you have one of the biggest excuses available. It's a roller coaster, but thankfully I've enjoyed roller coasters since I was a child.
There is never not an answer. For me, that's the solution. If I have to work hard or think hard or just copy somebody else that's doing it better -- whatever it takes, I'm going to find that solution. That's the drive that keeps me going.
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