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By Blair Henley

Kim Clijsters USANA (January 10, 2013) -- Traveling the world as a professional tennis player has its perks. The continuous cycle of airports, hotels, foreign food, and germ exposure is not among them. Then, of course, there’s the constant wear and tear on a player’s body and the psychological fatigue of competing day in and day out.

You see, for most of us, staying healthy requires eating a balanced diet, popping the occasional multi-vitamin, and exercising every day (one can dream, right?). It’s not so easy for players on the WTA Tour, where extreme travel and physical exhaustion are a part of everyday life. That’s where USANA Health Sciences enters the picture.

While the team of physicians and dieticians that make up the WTA’s well-respected Sports Sciences and Medicine department has always been effective in identifying player needs, their hands have long been tied in terms of prescribing specific products given the possibility of a player ingesting, and testing positive for, a banned substance.

“We had no answer for them,” Kathleen Stroia, the WTA’s senior Vice President of Sports Sciences and Medicine, told Tennis Now. “We would say, ‘Well, take this, but you are on your own to determine whether or not it’s safe.’ Supplements in the U.S. do not have to be FDA approved, which allows for a lot of leeway.”

Sloane Stephens USANA
USANA's latest brand ambassador, Sloane Stephens.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

So Stroia, along with a team from the WTA, began looking for a company that could provide quality products adherent to the ITF’s anti-doping rules and regulations. USANA quickly became the logical choice thanks to their likeminded philosophy toward health, prevention, and education. Founded 20 years ago by world-renowned microbiologist Dr. Myron Wentz, USANA also had a reputation for staying on the cutting edge of research in its field.

But there was one added benefit that made the partnership a proverbial slam-dunk: their Athlete Guarantee Program. It’s an unprecedented agreement stating that USANA will compensate a player “two times their current annual earnings up to $1 million” should they test positive for a banned substance as a result of taking USANA products. The company currently spends over $100,000 annually to test those products, assuring the safety of the approximately 600 professional athletes who use them.

The WTA’s Director of Sales and Sponsorship Marketing, Jill Hausler, explained the rarity of such an arrangement.

“In our sport, I've seen nothing like USANA's Athlete Guarantee.”

USANA and the WTA made things official in 2006, entering into a partnership that is still going strong today. Though no such affiliation exists on the men's side (yet), reports that American John Isner recently signed on as a representative for Anatabloc suggests ATP players share a desire for the benefits of safe supplements.

The WTA Sports Sciences and Medicine department decided on eight USANA products that they felt addressed the issues facing female tennis players, including a specialized multi-vitamin, a joint health supplement, and a Vitamin C booster. Players also use USANA’s Nutrimeal drinks and nutrition bars to refuel.

Several times per year, the WTA’s sports dieticians meet with tour players to determine their specific needs. Vitamins are then prescribed and distributed in personalized, daily-dose packets, making them much easier for players to pack and to remember what they’ve taken. Rumor has it that even WTA CEO Stacey Allaster uses USANA products. Her packets are appropriately inscribed with one word: Chairman.
Billie Jean King USANA
Tennis legend Billie Jean King spoke at USANA's 2011 International Convention.

Currently there are around 200 WTA players benefitting from USANA supplements; a number the WTA expects will continue to rise as new generations of players join the pro ranks. Plus, the rookies can look at the veterans for inspiration. Last year, six WTA players were named product ambassadors for the brand, including Sam Stosur, Liezel Huber, and the recently-retired Kim Clijsters (who will likely be selling USANA products at the tennis club she's renovating in Belgium). Today USANA announced American up-and-comer Sloane Stephens as their latest star endorser.

The partnership has been so successful simply because it makes sense, explained USANA Public Relations Specialist Allie Henderson.

“It’s a great fit because the WTA has over 2,000 players in 92 nations,” said Henderson. “Given that USANA has 18 different international markets, we’re able to reach our international associates and employees through the WTA. It’s the perfect common ground.”

Even Billie Jean King has gotten in on the act, speaking at USANA’s 2011 International Convention. She captivated the audience of over 5,000, wrapping things up by – what else? – hitting signed tennis balls into the audience.

With 242,000 distributors selling USANA products worldwide, the company truly has a global presence. In addition, they have placed a high priority on giving back; a philosophy the WTA also embraces. During the 2011 season, the two joined forces for the Ace Out Hunger program. USANA pledged $10 to the Children’s Hunger Fund for every ace hit at premier events during the second half of the season, while the WTA followed suit with a $25,000 donation.

USANA has since founded the True Health Foundation,
Sam Stosur USANA
USANA brand ambassador and current world No. 9, Sam Stosur.
which aims to aid underserved populations worldwide. In 2012 alone, they donated thousands to the flood relief efforts in the Philippines as well as victims of Hurricane Sandy.

USANA will hold one of its distributor “celebrations” in Melbourne during the Australian Open, featuring retired Aussie tennis star Alicia Molik as one of the speakers. They’d love to get Sam Stosur as well, but that will depend on how she performs at her “home” Grand Slam event.

Going forward, the WTA will continue to educate its players on the best ways to keep their bodies -- their most valuable assets - healthy. Through its partnership with USANA, the Tour can provide a tangible means to support the highest levels of performance. Kathleen Stroia summed up the relationship perfectly: “There area a lot of choices out there, but USANA and the WTA are -- no pun intended -- a perfect match!”

(Photo Credits: USANA)


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