Last week, Caroline Wozniacki announced that she will retire after the Australian Open in January to spend time with her family and manage her rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She was diagnosed with RA in the summer of 2018, right after Wimbledon.
The 29-year-old tennis star said she was in a bit of shock after receiving the diagnosis of RA.
She told PEOPLE, “One day I woke up after a three-and-a-half-hour match and I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do anything. That’s when I knew that something was wrong.”
She started seeing doctor after doctor but nobody knew what was wrong with her. She said, “After doing all the blood tests, it showed that I had an immune disease, and it could have been lupus, it could have been all these other things, but once we went further and further and did more blood tests and it turned out it was rheumatoid arthritis.
“It was a bit of a shock, but at the same time I was so happy to figure out what it was and starting to figure out a way that I could feel better,” she added.
Wozniacki realized that she managed to play all season and even won her first Grand Slam at the Australian Open that January with RA.
She said, “I never even thought that me, as a professional athlete, could have RA. It never crossed my mind that a healthy, strong athlete could have something like that.”
RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder characterized by pain and stiffness in joints. In this condition, the immune system attacks its own body and joints. Unfortunately, there is no cure for RA, but the symptoms can be managed with medications.
Starting to figure out what will work for her body, Wozniacki said, “For example, eating certain things can help me, and for recovery, I go into a sauna, things like that. And you learn that when you’re sick, you really need to take care of yourself because your immune system is already down from RA.”
However, she emphasized, “Everybody is different, so what works for me may not work for the next person.”
Although she was able to play through the last year, she had to face many issues.
Wozniacki said, “It makes some things more challenging, but I feel great in the day-to-day. I feel like I can do anything. I’ve won some of my biggest titles of my career with this illness. I never wanted to use that as an excuse for anything.”
She intends to raise awareness about the condition after retiring. “I wanted to raise awareness for other people,” she said. “Young women may think that they’re just feeling down or they’re working too hard, and as the symptoms come and go may think, ‘Oh I’m feeling better, I won’t go to a doctor.’ But the average time that a person goes from experiencing symptoms to being diagnosed is seven years. Once I learned more of the facts, I felt that it was important that I use my platform to share my story and show that anything is possible, regardless of RA.”