Friday, May 16, 2008


Justine Henin is 25 years old. She is currently the number one women's tennis player in the world. She has won 7 Grand Slam titles. She announced earlier this week that she was retiring from competitive tennis effective immediately. She talked of having more money then she could spend in 3 lifetimes. She is moving on .

The same day, Annika Sorenstam announced that she was stepping away from the world of championship golf as of the end of this year. At 37 years of age, she has been ranked the number 1 player in the world at the end of 7 seasons. She is currently the number 2 player in the world , has won over $22,000,000 in prize money, more than any woman who has ever played the game, and announced she is ready for other challenges.

Henin has gone through some difficult personal moments in her life. She was estranged from her family for a decade, as they opposed her involvement with a man she would later marry, and then , last year divorced. The life of a women's tennis player , wandering the globe from the earliest of ages, in chase of a singular pursuit, must at times be extremely lonely. This is not a team endeavor and personal goals limit one's ability to become a committed part of a group dynamic.

Focus was a central core for Henin. Once she reconnected with family and enjoyed those moments she had long ago left behind, she found that the drive necessary to beat the best in the world was lacking. She said she thought long and hard about her decision, but in the end, beginning a life she had long put on hold was what mattered most.

For Sorenstam, she has a world outside of competitive golf that she is now exploring. She is engaged to be married, speaks of starting a family, and is involved in golf related business ventures that now occupy her time and her mind. Like Henin, she has a life that is waiting for her in the wings.

It is jarring for us to watch those at the top of their career in professional athletics step away from the spotlight. We don't care how much money they have made, or how much they have grown tired of living out of suitcases. In the abstract, we believe that what is missing from their existence cannot possibly measure up to what their greatness has brought them. We all fantasize about being that kind of world class athlete. There is no way we would walk away from that, not when there was still more we could accomplish.

But we do not follow them once they have left the spotlight for the day. We don't know what it feels like to be uprooted for weeks and months on end. We don't have to exist in a vacuum where we are enveloped and overwhelmed by the requirements of our craft. There are large holes that can develop that need to be filled. Both Justine Henin and Annika Sorenstam are now trying to fill those holes. We wish them luck and even greater success in 'real' life then they have experienced at the apex of their professional worlds.

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