It just might be one of the most moxie comebacks in sports history.
Not even a year ago, tennis superstar Serena Williams gave birth to her first child, a little girl that she and her husband named Olympia.
It wasn’t an easy birth. Olympia’s heart rate dropped precipitously while Serena was in labor, and she had to be delivered by emergency caesarean section. Serena has a scary history of blood clots, and shortly after birth she developed life-threatening pulmonary embolisms. Her recovery was long and difficult, and kept one of the world’s greatest athletes in bed for six weeks, and so weak she found even short walks challenging.
And yet she stepped onto the grass at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London in July, and reached the finals just a few short months after returning to tennis from maternity leave.
It was a stunning accomplishment even for Serena, who holds a dizzying array of titles. There’s little doubt in my mind that she will soon surpass the record for all time Grand Slam singles titles currently held by Margaret Court (24).
What’s the secret of her moxie? A few observations from her life:
Moxie grows in difficult ground.
Serena has spent a lifetime defying expectations and defeating racist attitudes. When Serena and her sister Venus debuted in the world of tennis as teens, the sport was nearly lily white in nearly every way possible, from the players to the clothes. The sisters have been on the receiving end of both subtle and overt racism since virtually the moment they set foot on the court.
On top of the racism, they have been endlessly scrutinized and shamed for their bodies, particularly Serena. Their muscular builds don’t fit expectations for women – even world-class athletes.
Yet Serena, even knowing that all eyes will be on her every time she goes to work on the court, has remained resolute and positive. It takes moxie to celebrate who you are and how you are made when others seem bent on conforming you to their expectations.
Moxie isn’t afraid to stand out.
Serena’s fashion choices have turned heads almost as sharply as her powerful serve. From the brightly colored beads she sported in her hair as a young girl to form fitting catsuits to denim to tights and more, Serena’s on court looks have been controversial and groundbreaking and inspiring. Her passion for fashion doesn’t stop at courtside. The fashion school student has launched her own fashion line, and she’s often spotted turning heads on the red carpet.
It might have been easier for Serena if she had suppressed her style and just stuck with the traditional tennis whites. But she had the courage to be herself, and by doing so opened up new possibilities for others who will follow her.
Moxie has a strong support system.
It might be delicious for some to imagine that the top echelons of sport are populated by back stabbing rivalries that would make a mean girl blush. But the truth is that the rivalry stays on the court, and some of Serena’s strongest support during her recovery came from her fellow tennis players.
“I really believe that we have to build each other up and build our tour up,” she said in an interview with Vogue earlier this year. “The women in Billie Jean King’s day supported each other even though they competed fiercely. We’ve got to do that. That’s kind of the mark I want to leave. Play each other hard, but keep growing the sport.”
Moxie knows how to keep competition in its place.
Serena is such a glorious, fascinating mix of focused determination and sensitivity and creativity. If you had the chance, what would you ask her?