Wimbledon woman facing surgery for congenital heart defect uses her time to ‘learn about herself’

Aryna Sabalenka was planning on building up her fitness after just 14 games when she was diagnosed with congenital heart defect

Aryna Sabalenka was scheduled to start her summer commitments on July 2, but instead spent two months trying to recover from a rare form of cancer and heart surgery. After learning that her condition may have been hereditary, Sabalenka postponed her own plans and instead started a program to help other women with similar congenital heart defects in the hope that they can too.

The 20-year-old right-hander from Belarus, who will face Laura Robson on Thursday in a main-draw match at Wimbledon, told The Times that she was “not worried about the physical part” and was focused on “still playing the game.” That said, it’s been a long and taxing period for Sabalenka:

I just thought that if I wait for this day and this time then I will never get over this. At first I was scared to go to the doctor. After so many trips to the doctor I finally found out that the problem is congenital heart defect. It’s a really complex surgery and I was afraid the procedure would put me out of commission for a long time.

Sabalenka said that she was terrified of the surgery and wondered whether she would ever get a “clean bill of health”:

When they found out the surgery would be done in 20 days, I was so afraid and confused that I kept having panic attacks. I thought that, at the age of 20, and with no tennis experience, I would not get a clean bill of health.

Despite the difficulties she faced, Sabalenka said that she had learned a lot about herself over the past month and was optimistic about her future:

I think this experience has changed me. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about every tennis player and that people have problems with their bodies. I really enjoyed myself. I managed to change a lot of things in my life.

Sabalenka’s sister Sara, who was diagnosed with an unrelated heart defect six years ago, was the inspiration for the charitable campaign that led to the July 2 announcement that Sabalenka would be promoting heart screenings in Belarus and the rest of the world.

For the young Sabalenka, though, the biggest takeaway from this experience was a positive one:

I never had the mindset that I had to focus on winning, I always focused on the playing and I had this focus since I was really young. All I wanted to do is play tennis and when I got sick and felt my heart stopped beating for 10 minutes, I was having these incidents and it was really hard to believe and made me think about everything. If I had the strength and strength to fight all this, I really do believe that I can do anything in my life.

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