Storm Q&A: Wendy Palmer
Seattle Storm forward Wendy Palmer is serving as one of the judges of the 2007 Storm Women in Sports Essay Contest, which kicked off on Wednesday, National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Storm.wnba.com checked in with Palmer to talk about what basketball has meant to her as a woman, her rehab from the Achilles surgery which cost her almost all of the 2006 season and her role as an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth University during the off-season.
storm.wnba.com: What has playing basketball meant to you?
Palmer: Basketball, it was my first love. It's meant the world to me. It's given me the opportunity to display not only my athletic ability and the fact that I can play this game that so long was thought of only as a men's game, but it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership skills. I learned how to communicate effectively with people from all different backgrounds, learned how to work with other people and building relationships and bonds for great teamwork. Playing basketball and being able to play sports is just a natural part of my life.
Does the fact that you were around at the start of the WNBA - and even graduated before the league began play - give you a greater appreciation of the league?
It's a blessing. I think one of the things that's disturbing is that kids take it for granted - that there was always a WNBA and that there always will be a WNBA. My prayer is that there will always be a WNBA, but we have to do continue to do the things to get fans in the stands and make sure we introduce the game to a lot of people in America. So many people are unaware of the WNBA. Even though for us, we feel that our circle of people as players and family members know about the WNBA, there is still a large percentage of America that is not fans of the WNBA. The WNBA is not a household name. We don't speak of it all the time as we speak of the NBA and the NFL. We have to continue to do the grass-roots things - get out in the community and build awareness and build fan support - and to make sure that we're putting the best product we can on the floor with the game.
Do you work to educate younger players, especially your college players, about what has changed from when you began playing?
Oh, constantly. With the ladies at VCU, they're reaping the benefits of people who came before them paving the way at VCU and at their (high) schools. The people who played at the smaller gyms, didn't have the best uniforms. Now they're reaping the benefits off al that. Even in the WNBA, when I hear some of the younger kids complain about different things, I often remind them that when the league first started, we didn't have year-round insurance. We didn't have an abundance of practice gear to wear, didn't have an abundance of shoes. Even though we have so much further to go and to get in the WNBA with different things - pensions, something like that, that's definitely something that we're looking forward to the future to get - we've come a long way from where we were. We have to be thankful and continue to strive to make it the best league possible.
What have you seen that the WNBA means to young girls and women?
It gives them role models. When I was growing up, my favorite all-time player is Dr. J. Coming up, I knew of a Teresa Edwards later as I was playing. I didn't watch them in junior high and elementary school or anything. It was after high school that I really learned about the older players - the Cynthia Coopers, the Cheryl Millers, the players like that that came before my era. Young ladies can look up to a Diana Taurasi, a Sue Bird, a Swin Cash, Seimone Augustus, Sophia Young. These are their role models now because they're growing up now seeing these players. We didn't have that luxury when I was coming up. We often patterned our game after men, the NBA stars. That's not a bad thing, but we are coming into our own now. Kids want to be like Sheryl Swoopes, kids want to be like Tina Thompson. That's the positive side of having the WNBA around.
Also, that's one of your goals. When I was coming through, I wanted to play basketball after college. However, I didn't know how it was all going to fall into place. I knew my only option at that time was to go to Europe. It wasn't as if I could focus on going to Italy or somewhere else; wherever I got the best deal was where I was going. Now kids can look and say, 'My goal is to be in the WNBA.' They can work toward that because it's there tangibly; they can get it. With the older players, even the ones that paved the way before me, there was so much uncertainty after college when it came to playing basketball.
Are you aware of your responsibility as a role model?
I don't look at it as I'm a role model because of that. I think I've had some great, strong women in my life and it is my duty to give back to younger women, young girls, so that they can see more positive role models. That's how I've patterned my life. I've tried to be a strong woman in the eyesight of our youth so they can have someone they can pattern their lives after. A lot of times I tell my girls not that I want you to be a professional basketball player or some athlete, I want you to be the very best person you can be. I often do motivational speaking, and my message is not about being an athlete because the reality is only a few can become professional athletes. Only a few can play basketball in college. Only a few can turn out to be soccer players and these great tennis players. What I stress to the young ladies across the board is you want to be a strong, independent woman so that others can follow. They can look up to you. You can help somebody out and be able to reach down and pull another young lady down that's struggling in whatever area, whether it's school, personal life. You can reach down and try to give back to women.
You have the Hillary Clintons of today, the Oprah Winfreys. We're not taking a back seat to men. We're stepping up and saying, 'Hey, I can get this done. I am just as talented.' We're not just sitting back. We are stepping to the forefront and we are taking charge. That is a beautiful thing to see, whether you're an athlete or an entertainer or a principal - there are so many women principals. These people are impacting the lives of not just young women but young men too. They're seeing a strong woman step up and getting things done.
Switching gears, how is your rehab going?
Oh, it's going excellent. Of course, I wish I was further along. I wish I was all the way back and 110% healthy, but these things take time. I am playing now, running on the track, doing workouts, just trying to come back. I sat down and it's been a long time. I haven't played since June 3 and really been active since then. That is the frustrating thing. I'm coming along. I can do everything - I can jump, I can run, I can do slides. I can do everything. It's just now that when you don't use something for so long, your body has to wake up and say, 'Oh, I used to do this.' But I'm doing well. I'm doing really well. I'm excited about the year. It motivates me every day, getting up and working out. I want to win a championship. That's my goal. I want to be part of something special. I want the Seattle Storm to win a championship in '07. That's what motivates me every day.
Oh, it can be a bit stressful at times. One morning we had an early-morning practice and I came in beforehand, about 6 a.m., and did my workouts. My kids were like, 'Coach Wendy, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm making the donuts' - not realizing that there was such an age gap between when I used to hear the Dunkin' Donuts slogan. The guy used to get up and say, 'Got to go make the donuts.' You've got to get there early and get everything prepared. That's kind of my thought process - I've got to take care of me, because I never know what I'm going to be hit with that day.
Ideally as a coach, you just want to deal with on-the-court basketball issues. But as a coach, you are so much more to these kids than just an instructor of this game. You're a teacher, you're a mom, you're a dad at times, you're a sister, you're a best friend, you're a brother. You have to play many roles to help these kids through life because college, as fun as it can be, can be a bit crazy and stressful. It's a time where you get grounded. You go through whatever field, but you also get grounded. That's why I'm thankful God has me in this place - not only to teach the game but to help so many of these young ladies out in other areas of their life. I just try to give them a sound voice in the midst of the storm - someone who has no other objective other than I only care about you as a person. I want you to be the best person you can be. Let's stop doing this, let's do that and let's take these strides to make you a better person.
How has your second season as an assistant coach been different than your first experience?
I know what to expect. The first season I didn't know what to expect when it came to coaching. You get out of your comfort zone. I can go anywhere and play basketball and I feel fine with it. But when you're taking on a new challenge, a lot of times it can be frightening. I've been playing basketball for so long. When you step back and say, 'I need to prepare for life after basketball, I need to try different things,' it can be a very frightening time. As you know, fear keeps people from doing a lot of things. Just not knowing what to expect, leaving the end of the season and jumping in face-first into something you have no idea what you're doing and learning stuff on the fly. Last year, I learned stuff on the fly and oftentimes I was overwhelmed with the demands. This year, I have a grasp on it. I know how to plan my workouts. I know how to do other things as far as recruiting, which was a big pill to swallow, just trying to get into the recruiting world and get in touch with the coaches and get kids to your program. But I feel I'm comfortable with that now.