If you needed any more proof that women’s bodies are incredibly powerful, just look to Serena Williams. Today the 36-year-old tennis star faced off against Germany's Angelique Kerber and became the first mom to make it to a Wimbledon final since 28-year-old Australian Evonne Goolagong in 1980. Though she lost the match 6-3, 6-3 she’ll always be a winner in our hearts, because she fought her way to the finals just 10 short months after nearly dying in childbirth.
Although the match sadly wasn’t a victory for for Serena, it was definitely a win for working moms everywhere. She overcame an enormous number of obstacles just to reclaim her place atop the tennis world, a struggle that’s familiar to many moms who have scraped and clawed to get back up to speed after having a baby.
Just take a look at everything she faced down: First, she delivered her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., via an emergency C-section, then suffered a pulmonary embolism shortly thereafter. It took multiple surgeries for her to recover. Not only was she unable to train—she was unable to get out of bed for six weeks.
Then, when she was ready to return to tennis, she was essentially punished for going on maternity leave. Widely considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time, she was ranked 453rd in the world when she planned to return to the court in May. That’s right, 453rd. That’s because the Women's Tennis Association has a rule that lets players on maternity leave only preserve entry into tournaments but not world ranking.
Then, Serena had to withdraw from the French Open because of a pectoral injury. She also lobbied Wimbledon—along with help of allies like tennis legend John McEnroe, who sits on the tournament’s seeding committee—to amend the rules so moms aren’t punished with a super-low seed after taking maternity leave. In the end, she was seeded 25th.
She’s also been refreshingly candid about the sacrifices she’s had to make along the way as a mom. She had to give up breastfeeding when she realized it was impacting her performance on the court. In her HBO documentary Being Serena, she confessed, “The truth is I miss my body, being able to do other kinds of amazing things. I miss playing tennis. Mostly, I miss winning. Winning's always been the way I define myself, and I want it to stay that way for a long time. Long enough for you to be able to watch me, cheer me on, and be proud of me.”
Oh, and in between all that, she managed to attend a royal wedding and look pretty fabulous while doing it.
Serena has shown us what being a working mom really looks like. She’s shown us the pain. She’s shown us the bias. She’s shown us the grace. And even though she didn’t win today, she’s shown us what triumph truly looks like.
To the GOAT, long may she reign.