Justine Henin.

Justine Henin. © Inge Kinnet

Justine Henin is not only a tennis legend, not only a tennis commentator, not only runs her tennis academy but has a new ‘baby’. With the Justine Henin Foundation she wants to support sick children in children’s hospitals – from cancer to obese patients – with adapted sports. “When I became number one in the world, it was fantastic. But at the same time I wondered: what does it contribute to society?”

Hans Jacobs

Justine Henin was beaming in the brand new hospital MontLégia, on the outskirts of Liège. “Madame Henin, Madame Justine, or just Justine,” she was suggested. “Just do it Justine”, she said.

Henin has always had a soft spot for struggling children. For example, she organized holidays for sick children and their parents for about ten years under her Justine for Kids foundation. “I’ve always wanted to give meaning to my fame. When I became number one in the world, it was fantastic. But at the same time I wondered: what does it contribute to society? That led to Justine for Kids. But that weighed more and more, was not structured as it should be. It was a difficult decision but we have started almost from scratch again, thinking again about what we can do.”

© BELGA

Her new project: the Justine Henin Foundation. In collaboration with the hospital, sport is systematically integrated in the pediatric ward. Henin: “We want to boost their physical and mental well-being through sports in all kinds of forms for sick children who stay in hospital for a long time, from three weeks to a few weeks.” It ranges from cancer patients to children who suffer from obesity. “Studies in oncology, for example, have shown the benefits of sport and exercise in cancer patients.” For example, sports lessons are being organized under the name ‘Gym and Joy’ with a certified Physical Education teacher, and a multi-sports field is planned next to the hospital.

Henin has a special bond with the hospital group: her mother gave birth to her in a hospital belonging to the group. The tennis legend lost her mum to cancer when she was little. “When I was young, my mum’s illness affected me greatly. I have always been touched by sick children.” The Henin name should also open doors to sponsorship. The province of Liège is also contributing, the remaining Justine for Kids budget will be transferred and a number of private sponsors have already committed.

Henin is already dreaming further than collaborating with one hospital group. “The goal is to benefit 750 children by 2023, and why not try to expand to other children’s hospitals in Belgium.”

foundation.justinehenin.be

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