Elena Delle Donne’s basketball career is filled with numerous accomplishments, including the 2015 WNBA MVP title and a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games—but this journey to success was a hard one. She battled severe burnout, questioned her passion for the sport she’s always loved, and made major (and potentially career-ending) sacrifices in the name of family.
Now, the renowned basketball star is using her platform to inspire others facing similar challenges. Her upcoming body of work includes a new middle-school book series, Hoops, which follows a seventh grader named Elle through the struggles of being a young basketball prodigy. Her other forthcoming title, My Shot: Balancing It All and Standing Tall, is Elena Delle Donne’s own true story and offers a raw and personal look at her journey to self discovery. Already inspired, we decided to chat with the athlete herself and dig deeper.
From basketball super star to published author, your skills know no bounds! Your series, Hoops, comes out this spring and follows six-foot-tall seventh grader, Elle Deluca, as she navigates through life as a middle-schooler. What inspired you to write Elle of the Ball and Full-Court Press? Can we expect more books in the future?
Middle school is such an awkward time for everyone. You’re just starting to figure out who you are and what your interests are. I was inspired to write these books to let readers know that everyone goes through these awkward moments and that they’re not alone. Yes! Another book in the series is already in the works and I’m really excited about it.
We are so excited about My Shot: Balancing It All and Standing Tall. What made you decide to share your own story in book form?
I wanted to really own my story and tell it in my way. There are tons of interviews out there that share parts of my journey but My Shot takes readers through everything I’ve experienced in my life thus far. The book highlights the moments that are most important in my life and I’m really proud to share it with the world.
You famously walked away from a scholarship and spot on the renowned UConn Women’s Basketball Team to stay closer to home and your older sister, Lizzie. Your decision inspired so many people (including us)! Can you tell us how you felt when you made that choice? Did you have any doubts?
How I felt when I made that choice: scared, nervous, freaked out and really burned out. At that point, basketball wasn’t fun for me. I realized how unhappy I was with basketball and being so far from my family. I knew I needed to get back to the things that brought me the most joy, which has always been my family.
Your time at the University of Delaware was filled with success, including leading the Women’s Basketball Team to the Sweet Sixteen. Tell us about your experience with the Blue Hens and what you learned from it. How did your college life help shape you?
It was a great experience for many reasons. It was the first time in a while that I finally felt like myself on the basketball court. I was enjoying playing, and most importantly, I was having fun! As a Delaware native, I was proud to be a Blue Hen and bring more recognition to our state. My college experience was great and really taught me a lot about myself.
Let’s talk burnout. How did it affect you, and what advice would you give other college students that are struggling with this feeling?
It took a while for me to understand that what I want is more important than what everyone else around me wants. I’d remind other college students that are struggling with this feeling to prioritize what makes you the most happy and to do the things you love with the people that bring you the most joy.
What steps do you take to maintain a work/life balance with everything that’s currently on your plate?
I wouldn’t say it’s a balance as much as it is a blend. I try to incorporate my wife, family and even my dogs into everything I do. Sometimes they’ll travel with me or come visit on a lighter practice day. I need to make sure I take care of my body so when I have an off day, I just want to relax. The people that are most important to me understand that and are always around to watch a movie with me and lounge on the couch.
You’re the global ambassador to the Special Olympics and the first national ambassador for the Lyme Research Alliance. You also have the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation, which raises money for Lyme Disease research and special needs programs. It seems like philanthropy is in your blood! Tell us a little bit about your connection to these causes.
As a professional athlete, I have a unique platform to bring attention to issues that are close to my heart. My sister, Lizzie, was born deaf, blind and has cerebral palsy. If I’m having a bad day, I think of Lizzie and it gives me true perspective.
I’ve been working with Special Olympics since I turned pro and all of the camps I host are unified. In 2008, I was bit by a tick and was diagnosed with Lyme disease. It took multiple doctors to figure out what was causing my fatigue and headaches. My goal is help raise awareness and funds for Lyme disease research so it’s more easily identified by doctors and treatment can begin faster.
You’re the 2015 WNBA MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, and you’ve had numerous accomplishments on top of that. Which moment made you most proud? Why?
They’re all milestones in my life for a variety of reasons and I’m proud of each one of those accomplishments. Being a part of Team USA and winning a gold medal in Rio was an amazing experience. Representing your country on an international stage like that will be something I will always treasure.
What is the biggest takeaway you hope fans will walk away with after reading your book?
Always be yourself and know that everyone is fighting their own personal battles. No one is perfect and the moment you start acting true to yourself will be the moment things will start to fall into place
Do you plan on reading Elena Delle Donne’s new book? Talk to us in the comments below! #CelebratingWomen