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Martina Navratilova: Tennis and So Much More

USA Today, March 29, 2000
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Martina Navratilova retired from singles tennis competition in 1994. But from Wimbledon to Madison Square Garden, the final-season accolades and tributes she received never seemed quite appropriate.

The reason: Since her exodus as arguably the greatest women's tennis player in history Navratilova has continued several other careers and embraced a myriad of new challenger.

Author; activist, athlete, photographer, television commentator, corporate spokesperson, mentor and philanthropist, she maintains a diverse and fulfilling global lifestyle.

More than once, the 43-year-old Navratilova has commented to friends and fans two of her favorite and well-documented sayings: "Now that I'm retired, maybe I can get active" and "Now, that I'm retired, I need to get on with the rest of my life."

True to her word, desire and wonderment have propelled Navratilova into several new athletic, business, recreation and leisure avenues.

"I love game and I love challenging myself physically and mentally," says the winner of more than 1,400 matches, 168 professional singles titles, 18 Grand Slam singles titles and nine Wimbledon crowns. "I am just very curious."

Add her similar appreciation for alpine skiing, ice skating, golf, ice hockey, softball, mountain biking, sea kayaking, basketball and horseback riding into the equation and Navratilova's current lifestyle provides irony. She may, in fact, be more active now that she was during her two decades of dominating the women's tennis tour.

"It is important to play without feeling guilty," she explains. "I regenerates the body and soul. It makes you feel better all around and lets you become more productive at work."

Navratilova mixed her athletic wants and business life with a simple philosophy - prioritizing.

"For a lot of people, it's always the workout that gets the 'boot' when the schedule gets tight," she explains. "I suggest doing the workout first thing in the morning whenever possible, so it doesn't get canceled at the end of the day."

Relying on her own advice, Navratilova maintains a strenuous exercise regimen, often in early morning hours before her business and lifestyle interests consume her daily routine. Yet, she exercises with a new, more relaxed perspective.

"Since I don't have to play tennis and train for it, I can pick and choose how much to work out," she explains. "I can play whatever sport I want without worrying about pulling muscles and putting myself out of commission. I didn't start snowboarding until after tennis for fear of injury. But I have never broken as much as a fingernail snowboarding."

Navratilova still remains competitive, too, mostly pushing herself in her newfound sports. She also still plays tennis: World Team Tennis, exhibitions against long-time friend and rival Chris Evert and charity tournaments for the Women's Sports Legends circuit. She recently discussed most likely returning to Wimbledon this year to play.

"I have always been more competitive with myself rather than measure myself against others," she says. "So the transition from tennis to 'nothing' was fairly easy. I now have the opportunity to do other sports and get my 'competitive kicks' that way."

Navratilova's sports legacy, of course, has afforded her vast opportunities to travel the globe, exploring interests away from sports.

While visiting Kenya, she was so moved by the vast land and unique animal kingdom, she decided to become a private pilot so she could visit otherwise inaccessible areas. She secured her pilot's license last fall near her Colorado home, comparing the challenge to her last match at Wimbledon.

"I was definitely petrified," she recalls of her solo flight certification. "But it was also much of the same, like my last match. The same concentrations and the same focus, forcing myself to stay in the now, getting over the fear."

Becoming a private pilot complemented her long list of achievements. But Navratilova keeps her new skill in perspective with humor. "Flying is the ultimate form of freedom," she says. "As long as there is gas in the tank."

As an author, Navratilova has written and co-written five books, including three mystery novels. She's written opinion articles for numerous publications and provided tennis commentary and analysis for various television networks. She remains dedicated to various non-profit groups and charitable organizations and served for several years as president of the Women's Tennis Association.

Continuing her many years of activism, Navratilova co-founded an internationally accepted credit card program that has raised over 1 million dollars for philanthropic causes. She's also a passionate supporter of the environment as well as children, animal and human rights.

Last January, Navratilova was selected for induction this summer in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. The honor, of course, recognizes her unparalleled status in the sport. It also occurred as an aftermath to Navratilova's recent selection on numerous millennium lists of all-time great athletes.

"For me, playing feeds the soul," Navratilova explains of her lifelong long passion for overall active lifestyle. "I doubt very much at the end of their lives, people wish they had gone to work more."