We follow tennis in my house like some families follow college football, thanks to a child who’s become obsessed with the sport. Names of players on the professional tennis circuit are often confounding (Djokovic, anyone?), rivaled only by the superhuman athleticism they regularly display (an 11-and-a-half hour match, anyone?).
Especially when it comes to American superstar Serena Williams.
Williams lost in the finals at Wimbledon on Saturday—but that’s merely a footnote in this story.
Because she fought her way back to the top level of a highly competitive sport less than a year after giving birth to her first child, less than a year after a pulmonary embolism confined her to bed for weeks—all on an often unforgiving world stage, and at the “seasoned” age of 36.
And she did it for all the moms out there like you and me. In an on-court interview immediately after the loss to Germany’s Angelique Kerber, Williams became emotional when asked to address the moms watching her impressive return to the game. “To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today, and I tried,” Serena said, smiling through tears.
And isn’t that where victory is so often found for us as moms—simply in the empowerment of trying?
When women become mothers, our identities undergo an inescapable seismic shift. We’re conscious in everything we do of the tiny human dependent on our attention for her very survival. We frame even the most basic daily tasks around motherhood: what to eat, what to wear, when to go, when to stay.
While this is necessary and right and beautiful in its own way, mothers often suppress a nagging thought that trails us like a shameful shadow: “But what about me?”
Fighting to overcome that sometimes it looks like returning to a job outside the home. Other times, it looks like handing off the baby to a partner for a few hours of quiet or coffee with a friend. Sometimes, it looks like battling your way back into a sport you once dominated.
Always, it looks like love.
And Williams wants moms to know that even though setting and chasing goals comes with a fair amount of failure, each and every woman is worthy of the journey. “I feel like if I can do it, [other moms] can do it,” Williams told reporters in a post-match press conference. “I’m just that person, that vessel that’s saying, ‘be whatever you want to be.’”
Somehow, that makes second place seem a lot like winning today.