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Storm Q&A: Wendy Palmer

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On June 2, 2006, Seattle Storm forward Wendy Palmer injured her left Achilles tendon while going after a loose ball in practice. Palmer, who is one of seven players to play in the WNBA all 10 seasons of the league's existence, has endured a long recovery, but is back in training camp and eager to start her 11th WNBA campaign. WNBA.com's Brian Martin chatted with Palmer to check in on her progress and find out more about her road back to the court.

Hello Wendy. How is training camp going? How is the Achilles feeling?
Iím feeling good. Just feeling the normal little aches and pains from training camp, but I'm feeling well. You know its been a very, very long off-season coming back from this injury, but things feel good; Iím getting up and down, trying to get into the flow of things again. Iím just so happy and thankful to be back on the court doing what I love to do.


"I was in a boot for three months. After the boot I was in an air-filled brace, so I could finally put on a regular shoe. It was about four months before I could put on a normal shoe."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
How long did the rehab take and can you describe the process a little bit?
I got hurt on June 2 then for seven weeks I was either in a cast or a boot throughout last season. I finally had surgery on July 26. I was in a boot for three month. After the boot I was in an air-filled brace, so I could finally put on a regular shoe. It was about four months before I could put on a normal shoe. It was just a tennis shoe, so I had to wear tennis shoes all winter until I got that off in December. And then I couldnít walk; I had to learn to walk and get the flexibility and mobility back in my ankle. I was coaching at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) and the kids were often wondering ďCoach Wendy, what type of tennis shoe are you going to wear tonight?Ē I always wore Air Force Ones because they tend to match my outfits and thereís a different variety.

That kind of puts a little limit on the fashion, doesnít it?
Yeah (laughs), but sometimes you just have to suck it up. Some different circumstances you have to do certain things, so I became an Air Force One buff this off-season.

After that I started getting my mobility back, I started walking on the treadmill, doing the elliptical. My first time on the court was in February and Iíve just been progressing ever since. Doing drills and just trying to get back. I remember the first time I went off of it to do a layup and shocked myself and brought tears to my eyes. 'Iím coming back! Iím coming back!' Now Iím able to get up and down and Iím just thankful every day for the little things. I remember last year right after it happened there was so much uncertainty and frustration, so Iím just thankful. All the pain that I went through is paying off and I can get up and down again.

During the rehab, were you ever discouraged? Did you ever say to yourself, 'This isnít going anywhere? Why am I doing this?' Did any of those thoughts creep in?
Oh absolutely. I mean there were a lot of days that I was discouraged, feeling like I was never going to come back, that this was going to be almost an impossible task. But that is where my faith kicked in and I know that I can do all things through God, who strengthens me. So I just prayed all the time and just kept trying to take baby steps and before long those baby steps became bigger steps and then they became strides and then I was running. It definitely was a test of my faith and I just have to give all glory to God because he allowed me to get to this point and I know heís going to continue to take me further with this process. Itís been a spiritual journey. A lot of people said, 'This is going to be the hardest injury for you to come back from, I donít know, you're older, you're this, you're that.' But I think they also have forgot who walks with me. (laughs).

Have you ever had to go through a recovery like this before?
I had knee surgery, I tore my meniscus and that stuff. In 2004 in the Finals [playing for Connecticut against the Storm] I tore my labrum in my shoulder, which I thought was pretty tough because it was my shooting shoulder. But after going through that and having gone through the Achilles, looking back now, the Achilles is definitely tough because everything is weight bearing, everything goes through it.

There were days where I was trying to coach my kids at VCU and they saw the pain I was in and out of nowhere one of my girls Ė I call them my babies Ė one of my babies would bring me a chair and say, 'Coach Wendy, sit right here, you can just tell us.' It was definitely tough and they helped me, they were part of the process that helped me through. They would take my bags and try to help me. They would say, 'I can do this. Just explain it to me, you donít have to show me.' Because I couldnít demonstrate for the first couple of months, I couldnít show them and that really troubled me because Iím such a hands-on coach. But I made it and they helped me through that process and I have to thank my girls, my coaching staff and my boss. They were great, they were really supportive.

Was it hard being around baskeball all the time and not being able to play?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Beth Cunningham is the head coach at VCU and she would ask me if I wanted to get into a drill and I would jump at the chance. At first I was a little nervous, but I would jump at the chance because it was like, 'Okay, Iím getting back in my element.' It was good for me, it was good for the girls, it was good for my psyche.

Do you see yourself going into coaching after you are done playing professionally?
Yes, definitely. Coaching is a passion of mine. Growing up I always wanted to be a teacher and what better way to be a teacher than through the game, because youíre not just teaching basketball skills, youíre teaching life lessons and youíre able to mold these young ladies. For me, coaching in college is especially good and where I want to be able to inspire young ladies, motivate them, encourage them to reach greater heights. I can prepare them not just for the game of life and for the game of basketball, but for the next level if they want to come to the WNBA because Iíve played at the highest level and I can prepare them for what they will encounter when they get here, if that is their aspiration.


"Iím at that point where you have to get through the mental part of it. With every comeback, or injury, or surgery, you have to go through the physical part."
Norm Hall/NBAE/Getty
In training camp, you have a lot of young players trying to make the team. Have you had that same feeling with them?
Yeah, it's been interesting. The young girls are great. Sometimes I catch them just staring at me and I have to take a step back and say, 'Why are they staring at me?' Theyíll come up to me with questions like, 'How have you done it this long?' or 'What can I do better with this situation?' or 'Can you explain this?' I get a lot of questions and I understand.

My thought process coming into training camp was just getting back in shape, but once I got on the court, there are so many other things youíre going to have to do. Youíll have to be a leader, youíll have to an encourager, youíll have to be a motivator, and youíll have to help these young girls because they are the future of the WNBA and I definitely want to leave my mark on them. Even with some of the young girls that have been cut, I talked to them before they left and I was telling them that this doesnít define the basketball player or the person the that you are, this is an experience that is preparing you for the next experience because when one door closes another one opens and you just have to be prepared for that. Because a lot of times they can get discouraged and not understand that itís a business on this level, itís not college. But this does not define you. A lot of times, being cut or being traded, situations like that, it only prepares you for what life has in store for you next.

I know you have been on a number of teams. Was it tough to realize that when trades were happening in your career?
At first it was, but the thing that I rested on, that I came to terms with was there was still a need for my services. A lot of players donít get a chance to be traded because, in order to make a trade, people have to want you. In order for a trade to happen someone has to want you. Just because I did not fit the vision of a particular team, does not devalue me as a player and does not take away for the player that I am. I had to go through that to understand that that was the case. Thatís why I can give the young girls advice, donít let this determine the player that you are going to be, and definitely donít let this determine the person you are going to be because this is a life experience that is only preparing you for the future. Youíre going to come into what is rightfully yours, but you have to be prepared when that opportunity knocks, so you can walk through the door.

STORM BLOGS
For more Storm coverage, check out blogs by storm.wnba.com's Kevin Pelton and play-by-play broadcaster Alan Horton, featuring multiple updates daily.
Now that you are back and playing, are you apprehensive at all with the Achilles injury? How hard is it to block it out so you donít think about it all? Or has that not happened yet?
Iím at that point where you have to get through the mental part of it. With every comeback, or injury, or surgery, you have to go through the physical part. Okay, now you can walk again, now you can run again, now you can jump again, now you can shoot again. You have to go through those parts, but the last phase of a comeback is getting through the mental aspect. I remember with my shoulder, it took me getting hit at the YMCA by a guy that was 6-4, 250 to realize, 'Youíre okay. You just took a hit from a strong man and youíre shoulder is still intact, the shot even fell.' He fouled me and I made the shot and then it was like 'Alright, Iím okay.' But that was further down the line. I think with the Achilles itís tough because they say itís a longer comeback but itís going to come. I feel confident getting up and down. I do think about it, it gets tight sometimes, but itís not a pain. Itís nothing that my doctors and my trainers have not prepared me for. Things are going to happen, breaking the scar tissue and going through the motions. I can push off of it, I can jump off of it, so itís just getting through that last part, where on May 19 I donít want to think about my Achilles anymore. I just want to think about my team winning and winning a championship.