Venus Williams doesn't know what she would tell her younger self.
"Oh my gosh," the tennis star sighs as she considers my question. First, she says with a loud laugh,
But she's struggling to give a serious answer.
It's not because she hasn't gained any wisdom, and certainly not because she doesn't consider herself inspiring. It's just because she doesn't know what she could have done better.
It's the kind of answer only a Williams sister could give without sounding phony or obnoxious.
When your younger self was someone who proudly altered history with talent, strength and style on your path to becoming a great, what advice could you have?
The campaign features women in place of men on Brawny products. Brawny also partnered with Girls Inc. to support girls in STEM fields.
#StrengthHasNoGender, Williams says, "is definitely about empowerment and about the strength and resilience and celebrating women and celebrating Women's History Month."
This is a concept she finds inspiring and believes she embodies. She says,
Venus and Serena have put in the work to be recognized as great athletes, not great female athletes.
They have insisted on having that common ground, on being recognized as equals.
Aside from being women entering the typically male space of "great athletes," they are black women entering the typically white space of tennis.
For American women of my generation, the question isn't if we were inspired by the Williams sisters — of course we were. The question is how we were inspired.
As she tells it,
For Williams, a lot of her strength comes from that pure want to win.
She says she's not distracted by off-court commentary because "as soon as you lose a point that focus comes back. It's just that simple."
She laughs as she says it, but focusing on the game is part of her training.
Similarly, her trueness to herself on the court comes out of the necessity of the game. Williams says,
Along the path to greatness, Williams has encountered institutional sexism, including a difference in prize money for male and female tennis players.
But it's a topic that remains heavily debated, based on differences in popularity between men's and women's tennis.
One common counterargument is Venus and Serena bring in big crowds, so they should be paid equally.
But, to Williams, she and her sister specifically shouldn't matter in the discussion:
When Williams broke barriers in showing who can be a great athlete, she didn't do it alone — and she doesn't intend to let other women do it alone.
She had Serena with her, of course, and she also had all of the women competing with her.
As for Serena, Venus says she "can't imagine having to play without her."
In terms of relationships with competitors, Williams says,
Although there's no end in sight for her career at the moment, she recognizes she's at a stage in her career where she can be a mentor, "helping some of the younger, American players to fill those shoes that they want to fill of being a champion — an American champion."
There's no doubt she's already passed down inspiration for generations to come.