Sloane Stephens is only 24 years old. And she just won one of the most important tennis tournaments of all time: the U.S. Open. That in itself is spectacular (and also makes us feel like we need to accomplish something stat), but it becomes especially poignant after learning about the crazy obstacles she overcame in order to get to the champion's podium. Seriously, her story, which appeared on Sports Illustrated today, is motivating and encouraging and all-around amazing. (Warning: You might be inspired to run a marathon, launch a Fortune 500 business, or write an award-winning novel after reading this.)
It all started in 2009, when Stephens was playing at the very same courts where the U.S. Open takes place—Flushing Meadows Park. She received a call from her sister saying that her father, John Stephens (former football player for the Patriots), died in a car accident. "I was sitting right in front of the transportation tent, and my sister called me and was, like, 'Dad died last night in a car accident,'" Stephens said. "I was hysterical."
Somehow, though, she was able to come back and win the top-rated tournament years later. "I didn't think I would ever be able to regroup here, at this place, because it was just filled with so many emotions—and not good ones," Sloane said. "If someone told me when my dad died that I would end up winning the U.S. Open years later, I would've been, like, You're crazy. It is crazy. But I've had so many great moments here, and so many sad moments here, that winning, here, makes it even more special."
As if that's not difficult enough, last summer Stephens started to feel acute pain in her left foot and could barely walk by the time the Rio Olympics began. After going to the doctor, she discovered that she had a stress fracture. She rested for four months but started to feel pain as soon as she started practicing again. From there, the only option was surgery, which she underwent this past January. "It was horrifying," she said, thinking that her career might be stunted, if not completely finished.
But just like any good athlete, she didn't let that deter her. If you believe it, she trained for the U.S. Open (which, let us remind you, brings together the best tennis players from around the world), by practicing while sitting down. In fact, according to the article, she couldn't even stand up until April of this year. That means she trained for the U.S. Open in roughly five months. (We have no words.)
Talk about women we look up to. Her U.S. Open trophy also puts her alongside Serena and Venus Williams as one of the few black women who have advanced to the finals. Her opponent (and runner-up) was Madison Keys, another insanely talented tennis player. Stephens called the tournament "amazing for me and Maddie. We are following in [Venus’s] footsteps; she’s represented the game so well as an African-American woman. Maddie and I are here to join her and represent just as well." This girl will continue to kill it on and off the court, we can tell.