By Andrea Haring
I just watched an incredible match on my TV between Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova at the US Open. And although both women played really excellent tennis, and though Pliskova eventually took the victory, my heart was won by Venus Williams. I sat glued to my screen as she played a truly epic match, and listened to Cliff Drysdale’s and Chrissie Evert’s warm commentary. They both clearly had great respect for Venus as an amazing athlete – having watched her play through the years. But there was affection too and a deeper respect for how Venus navigates her life as a person. Cliff and Chrissie talked a little about how Venus had slipped in her ranking back in 2011 due to injuries and especially due to her autoimmune disease that had weakened her health. At one point this athlete, who had ranked as the world’s no. 1 female tennis player, was down to a world ranking of no. 105. Venus stayed proactive in adversity – she worked with different health professionals to seek out medicines and to shift her diet, and trained with her coaches to build back her strength and to find smarter strategies that could shift her game. And eventually, through the years, she has worked her way back to the world ranking she is today at no. 6. So Venus is an extraordinary example of staying pro-active and moving forward in the face of adversity. On that tennis court today she strove mightily to win her points, and remained calm in the face of points lost.
But Venus not only battles for her own victories, she fought as an advocate on behalf of all women tennis players for equal prize money for equal effort. In 2007 she wrote a public letter in The Times in London to the CEO at Wimbledon decrying the act of giving the women players substantially less prize money than the men:
“I feel so strongly that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players. I believe that athletes – especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women – should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling.”
Her letter influenced not only the Wimbledon Board, but Tony Blair and Parliament who advised Wimbledon to change their financial practice the next year. Which they did.
Another example of how Venus continues to better herself and train her mind is that she also went on in 2011 to complete her college degree in Business in online studies from the University of Indiana. She plans to get her MBA next. Chrissie Evert, while watching this remarkable women come from behind to make hard-won points and then the next moment accept her losses, said “She has belief…belief in working towards her goals.” And Cliff Drysdale answered “She has heart.”
I was struck by this word because heart in French is Coeur out of which in English we derive the word Courage. And I reflected how much of these qualities can also serve the life of an artist: Heart, Courage, Belief…
The belief in striving towards our passion. To set clear goals, and go through the years of training, hard work and refining our craft that is necessary to bring us closer to our vision. To have the courage to keep at it even in the face of adversity. But also the courage to try out new strategies, even if they take us into uncharted territories and new experiences. To be able to have an open heart as an actor is essential in rehearsal as well as performance – to be connected to yourself in how you feel, and to your colleagues so that you listen to them in a meaningful way. Finally, I feel it is crucial as a performer to actively seek out the joy and pleasure in what you do. When you experience those authentic moments of creative coalition where your acting impulses, the expression of them through your voice and body, and a true give-and-take with your fellow actors in service of the play come together – you will feel the glow of satisfaction that progress is made. So thank you Venus Williams – for inspiring us all.