Billie Jean King: An Ambassador For Age

 By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer

Billie Jean King still remembers the first time she realized tennis was going to be the love of her life. A school friend of hers in fifth grade had taken her to a country club to play tennis. King, a self-proclaimed public school kid, more accustomed to the public park, was dazzled by the sport.

“I remember I got to run around, jump and chase a ball,” recalls King. “And those were my three favorite things!”

“I remember coming home and telling my mother that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and she just said that I had homework to do that night.”

Unbeknownst to King, tennis would also be the vessel through which the now 71-year-old broke records in her sport, broke down barriers and enacted social change. Her career saw her collect 39 Grand Slam titles, that included 12 singles titles. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for the lasting impact she has had on the sport of tennis and on America. Now, King is trying to stay active and make changes in another area of her life.

Named by Atria Senior Living as their first ever Acting Aging Ambassador in 2013, King is now driven to promote healthy living and an active lifestyle that Atria has prided itself on as the nation’s leading assisted and independent living facility for seniors of means.

For King, who spent a lifetime being active – both in her chosen sport as well as in her pursuit of social justice and equality. Her introduction to Atria came when her partner Ilana Kloss’ mother needed to find a facility to live in, in New York City, where King and Kloss reside.

“We knew we wanted her to be somewhere close to the Upper West Side since that’s where Ilana and I live. We had tried a few places, and in some places we had taken one step inside and turned right around and said, ‘There is no way we can let Ruth stay here.’ But when we first stepped into Atria West 86 we knew straight away that it was the right fit.”

What struck King and Kloss were the abundance of activities on offer for residents – from movie nights, to incredible  food. “There’s always events going on,” explains King.

But it was the staff that really sold King and her partner on Atria West 86.

“What really struck us was how caring and compassionate the staff were. They really care there. Of course it took time to develop a trust, just like with any place, but we were so happy with what we saw.”

Atria Senior Living is a leading operator of independent living, supportive living, assisted living and memory care communities in 179 locations in 28 states and seven Canadian provinces. We are the residence of choice for more than 21,000 seniors, and the workplace of choice for more than 12,500 employees. We create vibrant communities where older adults can thrive and participate, know that their contributions are valued, and enjoy access to opportunities and support that help them keep making a difference in our world. “Atria is about relationships,” says King.

“My advice is, in old age you should be a problem solver. Whether you’re a resident, or a caregiver, Atria is also about relationships. Never stop learning, and never stop learning how to learn.”

As for looking back on her Hall of Fame career King knows that in spite of the countless trophies, the biggest lesson tennis gave her about life was to be that very problem solver.

“I knew when I missed a shot in a game, the next time I had the chance to hit it I would do better. I said to myself that I could not repeat the same mistake next time. Tennis taught me how to solve a problem. I could never call a missed shot a failure, instead it was instant feedback. I don’t like the word ‘fail.’”