How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport
Serena Williams has broken the mold. A professional athlete in her 20s, she is simultaneously a high-profile presence and a mother of four. In August 2008, Williams announced that she was entering the U.S. Open to raise awareness of breast cancer. The two-time U.S. champion became one of the world’s biggest names, and one of just a handful of women on the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team. But in the weeks and months that followed, the 35-year-old Williams lost weight and the athletic focus she had been striving to establish during the four years of her reign. She was hospitalized for depression, and her life took a turn on its head: She began to neglect her kids and fell into a serious relationship with golfer Tiger Woods, which ultimately resulted in both divorces. By the end of the year, she admitted to struggling with postpartum depression (PPD) and, along with her husband, split up.
Now, the reigning Wimbledon champion (and defending champion) is preparing to return to the sport she’s built a career on: tennis. Her rise to fame since winning the 2005 Australian Open was unexpected but, Williams argues, much needed. “Sports have always been my safe place for a lot of things, but even more so this time, because I had my kids in it,” she told the Associated Press. “I was always an athlete in high school, and it was always an outlet for me. I never had to worry about how I was or what I was doing. I’m always proud of that. I was always the athlete who did it as a hobby, as a passion, doing it for the love of the sport, and it was always going to be there for me, and for my kids, whether I was playing or just running around in my living room. It was always going to come first in a way, and I just had to accept that. I had to do it.”
Photo: Michael Ochsendorf
The only person who seems to have had that kind of insight into the pressures Williams faced as a teenager is her mother, Rosann. As the youngest of three young children, it’s not surprising that Williams and her siblings were raised by a