In 1973, tennis legend Billie Jean King participated in the historic exhibition match known as the “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs. King emerged victorious in straight sets, a landmark moment that transcended sports, highlighting gender equality and challenging societal norms.
King is renowned for her remarkable achievements in tennis. She won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. Her versatility and dominance across various categories solidify her place as one of the greatest tennis players in history.
Advocate for Gender Equality
Beyond her on-court achievements, King is a passionate advocate for gender equality in sports and society. She played a pivotal role in the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and actively campaigned for equal prize money for men and women in tennis.
Founding the Women’s Sports Foundation
In 1974, King co-founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. The foundation has played a crucial role in promoting gender equity in sports at all levels.
Presidential Medal of Freedom
In 2009, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her significant contributions to sports and her tireless efforts in promoting equality and social justice.
In 1981, King publicly revealed her sexuality, becoming one of the first major sports figures to come out as gay. Her courageous decision to share her personal life has contributed to the broader conversation about LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion in sports.
King’s impact extends beyond her tennis prowess, leaving an indelible mark on the sports world and society at large. Her commitment to equality, both on and off the court, has shaped the trajectory of women’s sports and continues to inspire generations.
NBC Sports journalist and former tennis professional Julia Elbaba recently moderated a discussion with the iconic Billie Jean King at Atria Senior Living on Roslyn Harbor. King had been rounding the circuit, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Battle of the Sexes.”
We had a chance to speak briefly with King about her influence and advice, as she is the national Wellness Ambassador for Atria Senior Living. Here is what she had to say.
CH: How did your partnership with Atria come about?
BJK: I’ve worked with Atria Senior Living for several years because I truly value what they do and the lifestyle they provide for residents. My wife’s mother lived in an Atria community and we were so impressed with the care she received. My wife and I even temporarily lived in an Atria community and had the best experience.
I work as a wellness coach for Atria and its residents. I help residents enrich their lives through active, healthy living—which is so important, especially as our bodies age. It gets harder to move, to eat well, and to prioritize mental health as time goes on, but I truly believe that a little bit of effort goes a long way, and that’s why I love working with Atria. They are the best in the business at what they do and we have the same values.
CH: Who has inspired your continuing wellness?
BJK: One of my earliest inspirations is my mother. She always told me “Billie, whatever you do, you’ve got to keep moving. If you stop moving, it’s over.” It’s a piece of advice I’ve carried with me throughout my life.
In my role with Atria Senior Living as their national wellness ambassador, I’ve tried to share this inspiration with others. Wellness is more than just eating the right foods and exercising—although both of those things are important. It’s about approaching aging with the mindset that it’s never too late to be your best self. When I speak with Atria residents, I see that they are committed to living their best lifestyle, no matter their age, and that inspires me, as well.
CH: How do you maintain wellness and fitness post-professional sports?
BJK: During COVID my wife, Ilana, got me back on the tennis court. We try and play tennis a few times a week. It’s mostly hitting but it helps get my heart rate up. It’s so important to work your heart and get your pulse up.
CH: As a sports legend and an active spokesperson, what are your top tips for readers to stay active and in charge of their own wellness?
BJK: The biggest tip I can give is to create and maintain a routine. Consistent exercise is a great way to keep our bodies, as well as our minds, in shape as we age. I feel it myself, when I work out, not only does my body feel better, but so does my mind. When I talk with Atria residents, I always remind them that healthy living and wellness can start at any age. You don’t have to have been a professional athlete to be healthy!
Similarly, healthy eating becomes easier the more you commit to it. Create a routine and prioritize healthful foods—vegetables, lean meats—but don’t forget to treat yourself every once in a while. That’s how you can maintain your routine long-term.