Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's About More Than Tennis Now

Martina Navratilova's battle with breast cancer will give her more chances to do what she does best – inspire others.

The news that Martina Navratilova would be undergoing radiation treatments for a non-invasive breast cancer known as D.C.I.S. came as a shock to many who saw the legendary superstar as an invincible woman, more akin to Wonder Woman than other mere mortals who are prone to real suffering.

But, in typical Martina fashion, the 53-year-old Navratilova is determined not only to beat the disease - she also wants to ensure that she does her part to inform other women on the ins and outs of it.

If this comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t.

Martina Navratilova has overcome her fair share of challenges. Her defection from the ironclad grips of communist era Czechoslovakia at the age of eighteen was only the first in a long litany of personal and public triumphs, each of which was fostered by her quintessential character – that difficult to fathom courage and conviction that seems to be ingrained in her very being.

At an age when many players are on the downslope of their careers, Martina blossomed, both as an athlete and as a person. Possessing only three major singles titles at twenty-five, she subsequently entered into a period of unprecedented domination in the women's game.

At the forefront of a revolution in personal fitness (aided by her partnership with basketball pro Nancy Lieberman), Martina transformed herself from simply great to utterly invincible. Recording seasonal records of 86-1, 78-2, 90-3, and 89-3, and winning six consecutive Grand-Slam titles during a stretch in 1983 and 1984, are just a sample of her feats (it’s a pretty impressive body of work that might take you a few hours to digest).

But anyone who attempts to summarize the highlights of Martina's tennis career would be remiss to not mention her equally impressive achievements as an activist, spokesperson, and role model. For each of Navratilova’s on-court achievements there always seems to be an equally impressive and humane effort taking place off the court.

Perhaps most notable are her contributions to gay rights. As Navratilova was coming into her own as a player, she was also becoming the first professional athlete to come out as openly gay while she was at the pinnacle of the sport. In spite of the financial losses she would inevitably incur due to lost sponsorship deals, and a loss of mainstream support, Martina was outspoken, and determined to do her part in ending age-old prejudices that were commonplace in the sporting world and across society. Responsible for expanding the dialogue on issues of sexuality and gender in sports, Navratilova continues to be involved with various charities that benefit a plethora of needy causes.

More recently, Navratilova has embraced the role of being AARP's health and fitness ambassador. It is a natural role for the 53-year-old, given that she was an inspiration to millions when she won her last Grand-Slam mixed doubles title at the age of 49.

Even today, as she struggles to come to grips with her cancer diagnosis while trying to balance her personal and professional obligations (she’ll undergo radiation treatment in Paris, while simultaneously commentating on the French Open for Tennis Channel), Martina is finding the strength to use her influence to inspire and enlighten other women.

As the news of her illness broke Wednesday, there was a palpable feeling that Martina is a woman whose greatest victory has yet to be won.

True to form, she decided to go public with her diagnosis and the details of her cancer (not sparing us the unimpressive fact that she went four years between routine mammograms) in order to raise awareness and continue serving a beacon of light to those in need.

Pearls of wisdom are already emanating from the outspoken Navratilova. During her recent live chat on the AARP's website she mentioned "I had seven friends with me for my lumpectomy - accepting physical and emotional support is essential for recovery. The tougher part for me will be the radiation course. I will let you know what will have been more helpful."

More than likely, more pearls are on the way. Martina has never been one to mince her words or hold back what she’s feeling.

We wouldn’t want her any other way.


  1. Chris,
    Thank you for this very thoughtful and excellent piece of writing. I liked that Martina expressed her vulnerability by expressing how "accepting physical and emotional support is essential for recovery." It shows that those whom we think are invincible are also vulnerable. I believe it is this vulnerability that makes us see the invincibility more clearly. Her stand in coming out regarding her sexual orientation was initially vulnerable, opening herself to us. But her follow-up just turned openness into courage. It is probably difficult, at some level, for an athlete as fit as Martina to deal with a disease like this but she again will provide us with an excellent example of moving on in life no matter what is in front of you at the time.

  2. A great article befitting a great woman. Thank you. We wish you luck, Martina!

  3. Martina is an inspiration to so many. I'm glad her second career of being a health ambassador has brought her many more fans. It sounds like her treatment and recovery should be good, hopefully. I wish her all the best as Martina will always be my No.1.


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