For those of you who are not big tennis fans, you don’t have to be to appreciate this story. Kim Clijsters, formerly the number one ranked tennis player in the world, had retired. For two years she left professional tennis, the game she loved, the vehicle of her income, to get married and have her daughter, Jada. How many of us can relate to that joyful feeling of maternity leave, only to reemerge back into the work force, dazed and confused. You come back like a rusty nail, worrying how your new child is fairing in daycare, or at home while you’re off trying to prove yourself to the world again.
“I didn’t understand fully how tricky retirement would be. Every athlete will tell you, when they stop at a young age it is tough to find the kind of fulfilment you want. Some need to come out of retirement to find it, people get bored, they want to play at the level they once enjoyed – but that wasn’t me. I was never in it for the money, or the limelight. I played to win.” Pete Sampras.
Pete Sampras was 31 when he retired, with 14 Grand Slam titles to his name and nothing left to prove. Kim Clijsters is 25 and proving her comeback after her two-year retirement.
Lots of people counted her out. When I heard she was playing Venus Williams, I thought like many others… no chance. I watched an incredible match. “I’m not even going to tell you what was going on in my mind,” Clijsters said. “I was shaking.” Still, she broke Venus down. The new mom. The rusty nail broke No. 3 in the world.
Then, after one of the biggest controversial matches in women’s tennis history, against a completely outraged Serena Williams, she reigned again. To keep you in the loop, in case you hadn’t seen or heard what transpired, Clijsters was just two points from victory when Serena was called for a foot fault on her second serve, which gave Clijsters match point in the process. Serena then proceeded to the line judge to argue the claim, where she yelled something to the note of ““I’d take this f–king ball and shove it down your f–king throat,” which then of course led to a code violation for her misconduct.
But last night was truly triumphant. All her preparing had paid off again. The doubt she had probably felt heading back to the gym to train, back to the courts to prepare for her comeback, had all disappeared last night. The fear of having to prove herself and make her way back to the top of the rankings vanished last night when she beat Caroline Wozniacki and claimed the title of 2009 US Open Tennis Champion. She had overcome. She reemerged as a force to be reckoned with. And for that, I respect her. I’m always a cheerer of the underdog. All those naysayers that said once she had left the game and would never be able to return, have been proven wrong. And with this, I kinda chuckle. I root for women like this. I cheer for women like this.
That’s why this story touched home for me. I too left the workforce for three years to raise my family. I have been on the fence about whether or not to return. What to do. It’s not easy to re-emerge and reinvent yourself. Our priorities somehow shift after that first baby is pushed out of our wombs. And I don’t think we ever truly go back. I’m not saying we don’t reemerge strong and fighting, I’m just saying kids change us. The daily grind of life, but even more so, life with kids somehow cuts away our edginess. At least it did mine, and I was pretty edgy. The guilt, the phone calls to pick your child up at school, that she has fever, that she just barfed all over the kids in her class, that she just bit two kids in daycare… this all takes its toll on our ability to function as multi-taskers. I’m going to leave it at this, as I feel this is a whole other topic I will get into another day. The impossible juggle and balance of home and work.
So the picture at the very top of Clijsters is what truly brings tears to my eyes. Trophy in one hand, young daughter in the other. A picture which slightly resembles “a woman having it all.” What a moment. Kim Clijsters is not only the 2009 US Open Tennis Champion, she is every woman’s champion! And, in the words of my father, “one classy broad!”