By Heidi Stevens
Two days before facing Russian Evgeniya Rodina at Wimbledon, Serena Williams tweeted the most human of messages.
“She took her first steps … I was training and missed it. I cried.”
“She,” of course, is 10-month-old Olympia, Serena’s daughter with husband Alexis Ohanian.
A year ago, Williams was still pregnant. On Monday, she beat Rodina in her eighth singles title at Wimbledon. (I walk/jogged the Bucktown 5k two weeks after my daughter’s first birthday and pretty much wouldn’t shut up about it for six months.)
But Williams isn’t like us mere mortals. She’s among the greatest athletes of all time, and she continues to prove as much, even after naysayers wrote her off as all but retired when she announced her pregnancy.
As if that weren’t enough, she continually uses her platform, particularly social media, to encourage others who may be feeling underestimated.
“2 days until #Wimbledon,” she tweeted June 30. “Just in case no one’s told you yet today, I want to remind you that you are greater than your circumstances.”
“1 day until #Wimbledon,” she tweeted the next day, with a photo of her winning her 22nd Grand Slam title. “In this moment, 22 was the greatest feeling, but ultimately getting to 23 was even better. Never let anyone put a limit on how far you can go.”
So when she sent up a working-parent flare on Saturday, she walked; I missed it, it was wonderful to see her fans swoop in with support.
“Ah Serena,” ESPN reporter Alison Bender replied, “I’m with you there. I’m in Russia at a World Cup. I watched mine take her first steps on a video. She’ll be proud of you when she grows up (I have to keep telling myself).”
“They notice,” a user who goes by Krika replied to Bender and Williams. “When mine was 3 y/o I had to go for 12 days to China on business. Heart broken. When I came back, I was told she was telling everyone very proudly. She’s 8 now and she still does.”
Chrissy Teigen, model and activist and mom of two young kids, weighed in: “She is practicing so you can see the real ones.”
Williams’ tweet garnered 3,000 replies by Monday morning, and the vast majority were positive and encouraging. (If only Twitter were always this lovely.)
My favorite reply came from a guy named David Jones.
“When your daughter is a little older she’ll know her mother is 1. The greatest tennis player of all time,” Jones wrote. “2. The woman who helped others return to the game after childbirth with a protected ranking and a career they don’t have to abandon. I hope you win it for her next Saturday.”(The final match for women’s singles.)
I’m grateful that Williams shows us the ways she is, truth be told, a mere mortal, unable to divide herself in two, unable to travel back in time and witness those momentous steps, unable to slay at her job without putting in the long hours that take her, at times, away from her family.
I’m even more grateful that her community of onlookers didn’t jump all over her for it. All too often we train our eagle eyes on working moms, waiting, salivating, for them to admit defeat. “You can have it all, but not all at once,” we love to tell them.
Not so fast, Williams tells us with her wins and her words.
And we cheer from the sidelines, both in awe and in recognition.