4 Questions with Billie Jean King
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4 Questions with Billie Jean King

Tennis legend Billie Jean King opens up to LHJ about her struggle with diabetes and her work with Be the Face of Change.

Over two years ago, Billie Jean King was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. But the former tennis superstar -- who won a record 20 Wimbledon titles and 13 U.S. titles in the 1960s and '70s -- isn't letting the disease knock her down. Instead, she's adjusting her lifestyle, staying positive, and reaching out to other Americans living with diabetes through the traveling photo exhibit Be the Face of Change.

LHJ: How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Billie Jean King: The main thing that's changed is my awareness level [about] my food intake and my exercise and getting enough sleep. Since I was a professional athlete, I was always aware of it. I'm just more aware of it [now]. It's been an interesting journey and will continue to be.

LHJ: What is the hardest adjustment you've had to make?
BJK: I think it was hardest to cut back on the carbohydrates and sugars. You've got to watch your blood sugar -- you just really have to pay attention. That's not fun for a lot of people, but it sure is fun to feel good, so I keep that in mind. I [also] don't get to exercise as hard as I'd like to, but I still do a stationary bike. And I've been going to the gym and doing weight resistance, upper and lower body, because I don't want to get osteoporosis as I get older. I'm dying to play tennis again -- I'm almost back on the court. I mean, I just want to hit a ball and to sweat. It's great, I love it. At the end of 45 minutes of tennis, just hitting half court, I'm so happy, I can't even tell you.

LHJ: What are the most important things you think all women should do to lower their risk factors for diabetes?
BJK: Get a screening, first of all. I didn't realize this, but you can ask your doctor for a free blood sugar test at age 65. And get exercise in your life. I find with women, it's all about relationships. If it's not a part of your life, I think it's good to reach out to a friend and say "help me, get me started." You've got to figure it out, even for 20 minutes a day or half an hour every other day. It's about doing whatever works for you.

LHJ: What message do you want to send to our readers who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes?
BJK: Just know that you can live a normal, wonderful, terrific, active life. You can go to bethefaceofchange.com to see that you're not alone. Every person I know who has diabetes has actually gotten a lot of good from it. They're still very excited about living and want to do more with their life sometimes because of it.

Go to bethefaceofchange.com to learn more about the traveling photo exhibit and Billie Jean King's involvement with the project.

Originally published on LHJ.com, July 2009.

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