Venus Williams: She’s Got It

All-time tennis great—with seven Grand Slam single titles, five Wimbledon championships and four Olympic gold medals to her name—Venus Williams is also a pro in the marketplace, having transformed her challenges with autoimmune illness into a thriving plant-based protein company, Happy Viking, and an inspirational guide to self-empowerment, Strive, out this September, a followup to her first motivational book, the New York Times bestseller Come to Win. Cristina Cuomo talks with Williams about her wellness journey, resilience, optimizing nutrition and cultivating the mindset of a winner.
Regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time, Venus Williams is a former world No. 1 in both singles and doubles. Photography by Kwaku Alston

CRISTINA CUOMO: What a beautiful self-help book you wrote—laying out the program by which we can all Strive to do better for ourselves. And it starts with each of us creating good, positive habits. But the road wasn’t always easy. As your sister says in Chapter 3, you always remain calm under pressure. How did you learn how to perform when you are not feeling your best? 

VENUS WILLIAMS: I stay focused on my goals—not on the pressure or what I’m up against. We always go through ups and downs in life, but whenever I’ve gone through a challenge, I’ve always come out stronger on the other side and more sure of myself. So, I look at those moments of pressure as a gift. Those are the moments that you prepare and work so hard to feel and experience. It’s important to also want to be calm in those moments of pressure, and take into account what you want in your life, how you want to react in those pressure situations. 

CC: What did you learn about how to get the most of yourself during those times?

VW: We learn the most about ourselves when we go through challenges. I’ve been lucky to have a strong support system throughout my life, but you also need to have inner self-confidence to keep you grounded in those difficult moments and remind yourself that you are strong enough to persevere through it. It’s normal to have doubts, but doubts come from a place of fear. And fear is a mindset that you can teach yourself to overcome. 

CC: Tell me about Sjögren’s syndrome, and how you address this autoimmune issue every day. How did that change your diet, your daily rituals?

VW: I was diagnosed in 2011 after dealing with symptoms for a few years, and it worsened to the point where I had to step away from tennis. It was a very difficult time, but it forced me to really take the opportunity to figure out what works best for my system. I learned so much about nutrition, and how it affects your body and health, and ended up going plant-based, which helped mitigate the symptoms I’d been experiencing from Sjögren’s syndrome. I discovered there were so many other benefits to going plant-based too—my energy increased, my skin was glowing, and my performance both on and off the court was better. It was a big lifestyle change, but one that was necessary to get myself back at the top of my game. When you do have limitations that are imposed on you, it’s not always easy to look at it from a standpoint of empowerment, but I empower myself. Every day I empower myself to know what is best for my body and what I can accomplish, and I am grateful for that. 

CC: Why did you write Strive?

VW: I want to help others live their best life. As an athlete, I know the importance of discipline and perseverance when it comes to achieving your goals, and through the years I’ve learned so much about wellness, performance and healthy living. This book combines all of that to help show others how they can apply simple tips to their routine to help them strive for greatness. But, perhaps most importantly, it’s about having fun, because being disciplined doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. My goal with this book is to help others get to a healthy and happy place where they find their inner strength to make healthy choices and take care of themselves.

She fought for equal prize money for men and women tennis players, becoming the first woman to benefit from the ruling with her 2007 Wimbledon victory. Photography by Gillian Laub

CC: Tell me about the “shortcut” that has guided you.

VW: To always tell the truth, especially with the ones closest to you, and to live your life with integrity.

CC: For so many, consistency and commitment can be hard. What do you find the hardest of the eight steps in your book, and what hacks do you apply to make it work?

VW: Making healthy food choices can be difficult and be a roadblock for most people. For me, I know I have a sweet tooth. Finding something sweet is a must for me, so I know I have to look for healthy replacements, whether that is a fruit-based snack or an amazing smoothie. It’s all about striking a balance in your choices.

CC: I hear you’re a secret chemist. Tell me how you developed the plant-based, superfood pre- and probiotic powder formula, Happy Viking. 

VW: Thank you! Happy Viking was actually inspired from my challenges with Sjögren’s syndrome and my switch to a plant-based diet. I started experimenting with making healthy plant-based shakes and smoothies over the years that would help fuel—and refuel—me, and that’s where Happy Viking was born from. We worked with nutritionists to create shakes that are not only the perfect balance between body and mind, but also taste amazing. It made such a difference for me, and I wanted to give other people the opportunity to be healthy, to feel their best, to be able to chase their dreams. I wholeheartedly believe that the better fuel we drink and eat, the better we perform and feel.

CC: What diet do you practice and why?

VW: I’m mostly plant-based and vegan. I am human, though, and of course have cheat days. I have a huge sweet tooth, and I’ve never met a french fry that wasn’t vegan, but I’ve maintained the plant-based lifestyle since I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome years ago, because I’ve seen so many benefits. I feel my best, both physically and mentally, when I’m eating clean and fueling my body with mostly plant-based food.

CC: What is a mantra you live by?

The bestselling author’s credentials include an associate degree in fashion design and a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. Photography by Gillian Laub

VW: Bet on yourself every time. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does. Even if everything is stacked against you, focus on yourself, your goals and the steps you can take to accomplish them. Be your own biggest advocate. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else?

CC: Life made easy—you keep it simple and keep learning on your wellness path. What’s new that you’ve been applying to your life recently?

VW: Finding more balance and the time for self-care. It is definitely worth the pursuit. I love my work and the businesses I am involved in, but I also know I need to make room for “me time,” and that it is just as important. 

CC: Throughout the years, you’ve spearheaded the conversation around the need for equal pay for female athletes and how far we still need to go. Where do you see it heading and what still needs to be done?

VW: We’ve come so far, and yet we still have so far to go—the fact that it’s still a conversation in 2024 means there is work to be done. Despite the progress we’ve seen, there are still significant disparities in pay and support for female athletes compared to their male counterparts. Ensuring equal pay isn’t just about salary; it’s about equitable opportunities, resources and visibility for female athletes. The future is promising, as more people recognize the value and potential of female athletes, and collaboration and support from both male and female athletes is key to bringing about change. I think the recent attention around the WNBA in particular is a great indication that we’re heading in the right direction, but it’s up to all of us to keep pushing the envelope to achieve true equality. 

CC: You have had some great mentors and write in Strive about the importance of surrounding yourself with people who make you beam with light. What is the advice you would give your younger self on what to look for in a friend or mentor?

VW: Having friends or mentors who are constantly encouraging you and support you throughout the highs and the lows. It is key to find real, true people who truly want to see you shine and you can go to seek advice from, whether that be in business, health and wellness, or any facet of life.

CC: As someone who loves aesthetics and has her own interior design firm V Starr and artificial intelligence-based interior design service Palazzo, how does interior design impact one’s well-being?

VW: Interior design plays a huge role in shaping your own environment to support well-being and promote a happier, healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. The design of a space can significantly affect our emotions and mood; a well-organized, aesthetically pleasing space can reduce stress and promote relaxation, and good design can also boost productivity. One of the reasons I love interior design is because it’s a way to express yourself—your personality, your creativity, your life experiences and your unique perspective on the world—and it should be a space that is fitted to your needs. 

Strive is on sale September 10;;;;