Where Strength Meets Success, You'll Find Tennis Great Serena Williams

Serena Williams, Women's History MonthWhen Serena Williams was 7 years old, she played tennis on the broken courts of Compton, California. She played with her sister Venus, but not under normal circumstances: Her father and coach, Richard Williams, knew his daughters would be stars one day, so he paid kids from local schools to come by and shout insults at them while they practiced. That's messed up, but he was training his daughters to deal with racist and sexist bulls**t because he knew they would need it, and he was right: They did. Serena has since emerged as arguably the greatest female athlete of all time. She's been demanding our attention since the beginning, so how could we ignore her during Women's History Month?


Her list of accomplishments and titles is enough to turn heads, but when you look at them in the context of a woman who is not white, not "feminine," not docile, or quiet, or apologetic, or self-effacing, her accomplishments are nothing less than astounding.

We tend to write Serena off -- I don't know if it's because we've heard her name all our lives, or if it's because she yells a lot at matches, or because we live in a society that doesn't like to give credit to strong black women -- but we should stop. She deserves way more than our attention. She deserves everything we can give her.

Who She Is

Serena Williams is a professional tennis player, but that doesn't even begin to cover it. She has the most singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles combined among active tennis players, male or female. She's the reigning champ of the French Open, Wimbledon, and the Olympics. She's ranked the No. 1 women's single tennis player in the world, and she's easily one of the best athletes, male or female, the world has ever seen.

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She's also the founder of the Serena Williams Foundation, and with the organization, she's helped build schools in Kenya and Jamaica. There are two things you should know about these schools. First, when I say "help build," I mean like, Serena, on site, with a hammer and nails. The second thing is that her schools in Kenya have a mandatory 60-40 rule, which means that the boys cannot go to school unless their class is at least 40 percent girls. 

Her foundation also provides college scholarships for underprivileged students in the US, and she's a minority owner of the Miami Dolphins. (Even in that, she's breaking records, by the way: She and Venus were the first black women to hold any ownership in the NFL.)

How She's Shaping History

First of all, she breaks records wherever she goes. Her athleticism is literally unmatched. I will repeat this as many times as I have to: She's the best female athlete in the world. She's tall and muscular and on the covers of magazines, and in that, she's redefining what it means to be feminine.

It's also important to talk about women in sports, and how little people want them there. Most female professional athletes don't get paid living wages, and then they have to watch their male counterparts roll around in fame and success. It's obscene how little people care about them.

But people care about Serena, and she's been able to make a living off her sport. That's revolutionary, and she doesn't take it for granted -- she's careful with her fame and money, and she's holding the door open for the female athletes behind her. 

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Her Words to Live By

In the 2013 French Open, Serena dominated. She won every set in the entire tournament except one, and when she was done, she shouted to the crowd in French:

I am incredible.

Like, come on. Serena is incredible! You hear people all the time talk about how much you should love yourself, and that's great. But Serena lives it.

Live by this, breathe by this. Tell yourself you're incredible every day! Do it now! It's liberating. You are incredible, and you deserve to hear that more often.

Why She Inspires Me

Serena loves Serena. That's amazing, and that's inspiring. This is a woman who's computer and phone passwords are affirmations to herself because that's what keeps her head straight in a world that doesn't want to love her as much as she deserves. She's plowed through every variety of bulls**t all her life and emerged successful. In what world is that not inspiring? 

Serena also loves Venus. Their rivalry is legendary, but so is their ferocious doubles game. They're roommates, by the way, and their respect and admiration for each other has literally brought tears to my eyes.

In her world, strength is more valuable than gracefulness, and shouting at people who wrong you is more valuable than accepting unfairness silently. In her world, getting your nails done is a ritual, and kindness is second only to putting sh**y people in their place.

In Serena's world, tennis is just a game, but family is life. 

I want to live in Serena's world.


Image via Christopher Kolk/Corbis

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