ATLANTA – Anna Kournikova is moving away from her image as a sexy tennis star in hopes of reaching out to a much younger audience.
Known as much for her good looks as her success on the court, Kournikova now works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Cartoon Network. She said she is driven to get kids off their sofas and into sports and exercise.
Kournikova said the move from bikini model in magazines like FHM and Maxim to kids’ exercise advocate was not expected by some of her fans.
“People always get shocked,” Kournikova said Wednesday while preparing for the Boys and Girls Club of America’s national conference in Atlanta. “It has been a gradual transition, and I wanted it that way.”
Kournikova’s provocative photo spreads made some refuse to respect her tennis career, despite winning two Grand Slams doubles titles with Martina Hingis and becoming the eighth-ranked singles player in the world in 2000.
The 27-year-old said she is determined to be taken seriously when educating kids about exercise.
“I started working with the Boys and Girls Club in 2004,” she said. “The first couple of years I didn’t want to do any publicity. I just wanted to learn about the organization and find out about what was going on. I went to the conferences and went to the conventions unannounced and just sat in the back and listened.
“People can tell if you’re being sincere, and I think that has helped me in the last few years. I think people have seen that I am sincere about it and I know what I’m talking about.”
She said proof came in a recent appearance on Rachael Ray’s talk show.
“There were only women in the audience and I’m sure they were like ‘Here’s this blonde we used to see in a bikini,’ ” Kournikova said. “Once we started talking, it was a great feeling and the women were really responding and all nodding and agreeing with the things we were discussing about the kids.”
Cartoon Network’s “Get Animated” program is Kournikova’s current push.
“I’ve shot a DVD with Cartoon Network to be distributed to all the Boys and Girls Clubs, and basically the Get Animated campaign is about encouraging kids to get active, to get them off the couch and get them involved in sports activities, exercises and a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
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