In 2011, in addition to injuries, Venus suffered several inexplicable losses. She was neither functioning nor feeling well. Extensive testing revealed that she was suffering from the autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome.
Sjogren’s syndrome attacks and often destroys specific glands called exocrine glands (structures that secrete hormones, enzymes, etc. into ducts which lead to the exterior of the body).
Any autoimmune disease is difficult because the body for often unclear reasons attacks itself.
The body of an elite athlete is required to constantly function at optimal efficiency in order to compete effectively. Injury and/or illness can and does seriously compromise that ability.
Venus’s condition forced her to withdraw from tournaments in both Toronto and Cincinnati last year. Those events were important lead-ups to the US Open.
Though she did play and win her first match in the 2011 Open, she withdrew before the second round due to worsening symptoms from the illness.
Hopefully, Venus suffers from the primary form of this disease which, while certainly annoying, is more manageable and less destructive than the secondary variety.
Venus has played in four events since the initial diagnosis followed by rest, treatment and lifestyle changes. That she was able to reach mid rounds in each of those events is suggestive that she may either be holding the disease at bay, has the less debilitating form of it, or both.
Whatever the case, Venus is pushing forward with courage and resolve. She is facing this disease as she has opponents in tennis, tenaciously yet gracefully.
I salute her for facing this newest obstacle, within the public arena, with such openness and dignity and I hope the very best for her.
She certainly has given her best to tennis, both on and off the court.
Welcome back Venus. It’s encouraging, inspiring and just downright smashing to see you playing again.
Keep the faith!