What You Don't Know About Venus Williams

Venus Williams burst onto the sports scene at the young age of 14 years old, when she made her professional debut after making the decision to not pursue junior-level tennis. These days, Williams is celebrated as one of the world's most formidable and successful athletes, having won numerous awards, medals, and trophies throughout her impressive career.

However, there's more to Williams than what you see on the tennis court. She's a successful entrepreneur who was encouraged by her parents to work for herself and run her own business; she now boasts two degrees and runs both a fashion design and an interior design firm. Williams has also battled an autoimmune disease for much of her career, though she managed to learn to work with the condition ahead of making her tennis comeback at the age of 37.

There's a lot more to learn about Williams. Here's a look at one of the world's most decorated athletes — and what she's like on and off the international court that has made her famous.

Venus Williams was raised as a Jehovah's Witness

Venus Williams, her sister Serena, and their mother Oracene Price are all Jehovah's Witnesses. Venus opted to convert to the faith after her mother's decision to do so, and Tennis.com has noted that along with her family, Venus takes the faith and its tenets and rules seriously. For example, she doesn't celebrate most holidays, including her own birthday.

Venus hasn't spoken about her religion in specific detail too often in the media, but she and Serena both once sat down for an interview with Oprah in which they opened up about their faith. After Serena explained that two have a "strong spiritual background," Venus went on to share that she aspires to always be an honest person more than just about any other trait, and her religion is a big reason why.

As Venus told Oprah, "I've never had a reason to lie, and I want to keep it that way. I want to be a good example for my family and of my religion. I also want to be proud of who I am and to know exactly what I want."

Venus Williams went pro at the age of 14

Venus Williams has been dominating the world of tennis almost as long as she's been playing the game, and she made her professional debut in the sport when she was only 14 years old. Williams played her first professional match at the Bank Of The West Classic in Oakland, California, on October 31, 1994.

As reported by the New York Times, Williams beat Shaun Stafford, who was then ranked the 59th best women's player in the world, in her first match. She then turned around and almost beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who was ranked as the No. 2 best player in the world. Williams went on to gain international acclaim following her performance at the event. 

The New York Times seemed astounded by Williams' success, describing the young girl as "the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen." As noted in the piece, Williams had eschewed a traditional path toward professional tennis, which would have had her playing matches at the junior level. Instead, she leapt right onto the biggest stages in the sport.

Venus Williams is part owner of the Miami Dolphins

Venus Williams has always made sure to cultivate a number of interests and opportunities outside of the world of tennis. In August 2009, she and her sister Serena Williams decided to become part owners of the Miami Dolphins. ESPN reported the purchase, noting that at the time the sisters both lived roughly an hour from the stadium where the Dolphins play.

Venus explained to ESPN that the move just made sense, as both sisters feel a strong connection to Florida. She said, "To have this opportunity is really where our heart is." She added that the two were looking forward to being on hand for games, saying, "We're South Florida girls. When we get off the road, this is where we come home to. When we come home to Dolphins games, it's going to be exciting."

Venus also shared that part of the appeal of going to games is that she's not the one playing the game. As she put it, when she's on a tennis court it's difficult to really take in the experience, but when she's at a Dolphins game, she's a fan just like anyone else.

She battles Sjögren's syndrome

Venus Williams is one of the most successful tennis players in the world, but that doesn't mean that every step of her journey has been easy. In fact, it often takes a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice to make it as far as Venus has. On top of that, she has also suffered from an autoimmune disorder for years that has, at times, impacted her game on the court.

Williams told Prevention that she began experiencing symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome all the way back in 2004. At first, she couldn't figure out what was going on. As she put it, "No matter how hard I worked, I was exhausted, short of breath, and never felt in shape. It was really frustrating." Things got so bad that she even had to stop playing tennis at the professional level.

After visiting doctor after doctor who couldn't figure out what was going on, Williams finally received an answer. While she will likely battle the condition for the rest of her life, the symptoms are mostly manageable. Fortunately, Williams has found medication that works for her. As she told Prevention, life before the medication was horrible. She explained, "Just being alive was very uncomfortable. I was exhausted to the point that I was just always uncomfortable or in pain."

Venus Williams eats a plant-based diet

As a professional athlete, Venus Williams definitely focuses on making sure she's putting healthy food into her body. Williams told Women's Health Magazine that she credits her plant-based diet as the reason she's been able to play tennis into her 40s, explaining, "I started eating raw and vegan for health reasons. I needed to fuel my body in the best way possible."

While Williams mostly focused on eating plant-based, she admits to sometimes straying from the path. In fact, she joked to the publication that she's really a che-gan, because she sometimes cheats on her vegan diet. In the interview, Williams detailed what her diet is like, sharing that a big meal in the morning isn't really her thing, so she often goes for a protein shake instead.

She explained to the magazine that she definitely focuses on foods with nutrients that will help her stay strong, like protein, and that will give her energy boosts, like carbs. Her go-to while on the road at tournaments is a simple vegan Caesar salad.

Venus Williams argued for equal pay at Wimbledon and won

These days, women's tennis players receive the same prize money that men's tennis players receive at Wimbledon, but that wasn't always the case. It turns out that players in the women's division have Venus Williams to thank. She explained in an essay for British Vogue that she first became aware of the award difference back in 2000, when she learned that the male Wimbledon winner received $477,500, while the female winner went home with $430,000. 

Williams began lobbying the tournament for equal pay, and in 2007, she became the first women's tennis player to win the tournament and receive the same amount of prize money as her male counterpart. She explained why this mattered so much to her in the essay, writing, "I firmly believe that sport mirrors life and life mirrors sport. The lack of equality and equal opportunities in tennis is a symptom of the obstacles women face around the world."

Venus and Serena Williams were the first tennis players to win four Olympic medals

As one of the world's best tennis players, it's not a surprise that Venus Williams has made breaking records just part of what she does. In August 2012, she and her sister Serena Williams again changed the history books when they won four Olympic gold medals, and became the first tennis players (male or female) to do so.

The twosome had already won their first set of gold medals at the Sydney Games in 2000, a feat they repeated at the Beijing Games in 2008. As such, the two entered the 2012 Games in London as the team to beat. Venus told the International Tennis Federation that winning the medals was great, but that watching her sister play was even better. She said, "For us it's so exciting in this Olympics winning the gold together. For me it was amazing to watch Serena from the stands and see her complete the golden slam, so it's been amazing for us."

Venus Williams is also a fashion designer

Venus Williams launched her own activewear brand, EleVen, back in 2007, and has quietly been building quite the successful company ever since. She explained to Racked that her interest in fashion design began when she was 18 years old and was accepted into a program at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. As she put it, when it was time to launch her own line, activewear was a clear fit, given her successful career as a tennis player.

Williams is incredibly hands-on with the brand, telling Racked that she is very involved with nearly every part of the company. From picking color stories to understanding what goals the sales team has to bringing her sketch book out on the road from tournament to tournament, Williams prides herself on making sure she's up to date with everything EleVen hopes to accomplish.

In a separate interview, Williams told Sports Illustrated Kids that the thing she loves the most about being a designer is seeing people wearing the clothes she's helped bring to life. As she put it, "My proudest moments as a designer have been seeing someone actually wearing my clothes! You don't always know if someone will love what you design as much as you do. It's satisfying to see people working out, doing something positive in EleVen."

Venus Williams has a bachelor's degree in Business Administration

Though she has spent most of her adulthood playing tennis, Venus Williams has made good on her educational goals, too. Williams graduated from Indiana University East in August 2015, completing her bachelor's degree online and visiting the campus for the first time on the day of her graduation. This was her second degree, as she had completed a fashion design program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2007.

Williams told the school's publication that she chose the program at Indiana University East because she loved how the college made her feel. As she put it, "One of the main reasons that I chose IU East was because I felt so at home. It was like family, like it was my school, and I was so excited."

Williams was also the first person to graduate under an agreement with the school and the Women's Tennis Benefits Association. The program makes it possible for professional players to also enroll in classes, and Indiana University East noted that at the time of Williams' graduation, there were 15 other players enrolled in programs at the school.

Venus Williams owns an interior design firm

Fashion isn't the only type of design that has captured the heart and imagination of Venus Williams. In 2002, she founded V Starr Interiors in Florida, and the company has been coming up with its own unique type of interior design ever since. Williams told Elle Decor that she's been passionate about design for a long time, tracing her interest all the way back to childhood. As she put it, "Our parents always encouraged who we were outside of the court and I started to understand when I was a teenager that I absolutely loved design. From there, I found my passion and pursued it."

Williams adds that her parents actually mandated that she have strong interests in something besides tennis, likely so she would have other avenues to explore if tennis didn't pan out. She added that despite how tricky it might seem, starting the business when she was in the thick of her tennis career was actually pretty ideal. As she said, "The best way to do things is to challenge yourself and I'm always up for a challenge."

Venus Williams has a lot of siblings

While many of us know that Venus Williams' sister Serena Williams is also an incredible tennis player, it's not as widely known that Venus actually has nine other siblings. She has half-siblings on both her mother and her father's side. The Sun reports that Venus' mother, Oracene Price, has two other daughters named Lyndrea and Isha Price. Sadly, another half-sister on her mom's side, Yetunde Price, was killed in 2003. Lyndrea and Isha remain close to Venus, as Lyndrea works as the creative costumer for Venus' fashion line, and Isha served as a producer for the film "King Richard."

Venus has considerably more half-siblings on her father's side. The Sun states that her father, Richard Williams, has seven other children. He has five children, named Sabrina, Richard III, Ronner, Reluss, and Reneeka, with his ex-wife Betty Johnson. He also has a son named Dylan with another ex-wife, Lakeisha Juanita Graham, and another son named Chavoita LeSane.

Venus Williams made a tennis comeback at 37

In 2017 Venus Williams did something that few athletes have managed before — or since. As Elle notes, she had a masterful and successful year as a professional tennis player at the age of 37. She even made it all the way back to Wimbledon a full nine years after she had last won there, proving that when she sets her mind on achieving a goal, she can pull it off. As Williams told the publication, "I would just like to win tournaments and majors. I set the goals in practice and have to execute them."

Williams expressed her hope to return back to England for Wimbledon again in the same interview, sharing that she always looks forward to visiting the country and participating in the matches. As she put it, "I first went to Wimbledon wanting to win so badly, so when it happened, it was a feeling that was mine and nobody else's. I just want memories like that to continue for as long as possible."

Venus Williams set a record for the fastest US Open serve in 2007

While Venus Williams has set numerous records throughout the years, one stood the test of time — all the way from 2007 to 2021. Venus blasted a serve at a whopping 129 miles per hour back in her first round match of the 2007 US Open, a speed that was finally matched by Alycia Parks in September 2021. 

As shared by Chron, Venus' original record-setting moment actually broke the record that had previously been held by her sister Serena Williams, who hit a US Open serve at a speed of 127 miles per hour the year before. The speed made Venus pause and laugh, and she later said, "I loved it. I just lost a bit of focus there, for sure."

Venus seemed pretty bemused by the entire experience, adding that she used to try to hit the ball very hard when she first began playing. She explained that while that wasn't her goal with her record-setting serve, it still happened. She said, "When I was younger, I was always trying to serve harder and harder, and now I'm not trying to serve hard. It comes hard."