With 23 Grand Slam titles to her name and several booming side hustles (including her EleVen athletic apparel line and V Starr interior design firm), Venus Williams knows how to safeguard her body so she can power through packed days.
But it’s the way the four-time Olympic gold medalist and longtime Floridian has managed her mind throughout her lengthy career that’s made all the difference. With the theatrical and HBO Max release of the biopic “King Richard,” the world now knows the fortitude the tennis supernova’s mother and father instilled in her, from the time she was barely old enough to swing a racket.
“My parents were big proponents of mental health — not just self-care, but proactivity,” says Williams, who received a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and currently calls Jupiter Island home. “It was about realizing that the world is a beautiful place, but it’s also a challenging place, and that you have to prepare mentally to be able to handle the pressures. I was able to succeed in places where others [didn’t] because I had that support from a young age.”
She also turned to the Women’s Tennis Association, which has long offered the services of dedicated mental health staff to help players thrive both on and off the court. And now she’s paying it forward, partnering with the WTA and online counseling platform BetterHelp on an initiative that’s providing $2 million in free therapy to anyone who wants it.
“There are no barriers,” she says of the program. “You just need a phone or a laptop and access to the Internet.” Acknowledging the psychological toll COVID-19 has taken, Williams is a firm believer that mental wellness is a key pillar of a happy, healthy, resilient life.
“Nothing can buy that,” she tells Alexa. “And nothing can replace it, either. For me, mental health means being in a place where you have that peace of mind, that happiness, that sense of being free, of having the ability to dream big and go for it.”
Williams, 41, says she’s thrilled to help erase the stigma once attached to seeking psychological help. “People are talking to each other about their therapists. And not just in person, on social media, too. I love that this next generation can have the opportunity to be proactive and take care of their mental health.”