As Madison Bridges stood in the third spot of a 200-person line outside the Love All Tennis shop, she wondered what she should say when she finally met her hero, tennis star Venus Williams.
Should the 14-year-old from Holly Springs ask for tennis tips? Something more personal?
A few spots back, 7-year-old Maeley Roach couldn’t wait to pose for a photo. She daydreamed of hanging it on her bedroom wall in Raleigh.
“So when I sit up in bed, I can always see it,” she said.
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Dozens of women and young girls in tennis skirts lined the sidewalks of the Stone Creek Shopping Center in Cary Monday afternoon to take photos with Williams, who visited the Love All Tennis shop to promote her EleVen by Venus clothing line. It was the first such event for Love All Tennis, which is less than two miles away from the Cary Tennis Park.
Many waited for more than three hours. Williams was scheduled to appear at 1 p.m., but couldn’t make it until 3 p.m. because her flight was delayed. By the time she got there, a row of fans outside the tennis shop stretched past a salon, pet store and toy store.
“It’s going better than we could have imagined,” said Julie Larrichio, a shop partner.
Sharon Williams, who arrived around 10 a.m. to be first in line, couldn’t wait to congratulate Williams for following in tennis legend Billie Jean King’s footsteps as an advocate for women.
“I love what she did in advocating for equal pay,” said Sharon, a Raleigh tennis player who remembers when Venus broke into the pros with her hair in beads. “I’m so proud of her.”
To kick off the event, Williams addressed a crowd of about two dozen fans inside the shop. Many held their cell phones aloft as Williams assigned meaning to her brightly-colored workout gear.
“It’s about bringing your personal best every time, whether you win or lose,” she said, standing next to a life-sized image of herself and her brand logo.
That tennis-generated positive energy can then be used to help others, Williams said.
“If you do something positive for yourself, you feel good about you, you’re healthy, that gives you an opportunity to give back to other people,” she said to applause.
Williams’ history as a role model is one reason Varick Miles was happy to pose for photos with Williams and his 11-year-old daughter, Victoria.
“I told her she’s been an inspiration for my daughter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Victoria was so starstruck that she worried she might embarrass herself. During the photo op, she focused on keeping her balance.
“I thought I might trip and fall or something,” said the student from Rolesville Middle School.
Nerves almost got the better of Madison, too. The Holly Ridge Middle tennis player left school early but – even after sitting outside the tennis shop for four hours in a fold-out chair – she hadn’t settled on a question for Williams.
She considered asking Williams about her childhood, her glamorous life or her pre-match habits. Then, when the time finally came, Madison forgot everything.
She introduced herself, shook Williams’ hand and moved in close for photos. A huge smile elevated Madison’s cheeks as Williams put her arm around her. As the moment ended, she looked up to find Williams smiling back at her.
Bridges then said the first words that came to mind: “You’re amazing.”
Did you know?
Aside from winning seven Grand Slam singles tennis titles and 13 doubles tennis titles alongside her sister, Serena Williams, Venus Williams is a successful businesswoman.
Williams, a 34-year-old California native, is CEO of her interior design firm, V Starr Interiors, in Florida. She runs her own fashion line, EleVen by Venus. The sisters are also part owners of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins.