PHOENIX – Despite the Phoenix Mercury’s rocky 2022 season ending with a two-game sweep to the Las Vegas Aces in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, everyone around the team knew the season was effectively over when disaster struck late in the third quarter of the series opener.
Shey “Playoff” Peddy fell to the floor in front of the Mercury bench and grabbed her right foot. It was immediately apparent based on the tearful reactions of her teammates that this was no common injury.
Peddy tore her Achilles tendon, one of the hardest injuries in basketball to return from.
“The Achilles is tough because it has so much to do with your ability to produce force while jumping, and jumping is basketball,” said Hannah Wengertsman, head athletic trainer for the Mercury. “Any time you take a shot, you’re jumping, any time you go for a layup … That’s probably the hardest part, just getting that calf strength back and being able to produce and absorb force quickly.”
On June 2, 289 days after last year’s playoff game in Las Vegas, Peddy checked into the Mercury’s matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks towards the end of the first quarter. A Footprint Center crowd of 8,815 fans rose to its feet.
“That was the longest I’ve gone in my life without playing basketball,” Peddy said of her recovery. “So to have something I’m used to doing all my life and that I love that gets taken away from me in the blink of an eye, to be out here, I don’t take any of this for granted right now.”
Recovery from Achilles tendon ruptures for elite basketball players takes an average of 10 months and a return to a player’s pre-injury peak performance is highly unlikely, according to a study on the effects of Achilles tendon ruptures on elite basketball players by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology.
For Peddy, patience and consistency were key.
“Hannah worked with me throughout the whole offseason,” Peddy said. “I was here the entire nine months. Five days a week, almost two-to-three hours a day. It was just motivation, I was tired of being hurt. I wanted to get back as soon as possible, but I wanted to be ready.”
There are many factors to take into account for any athlete’s rehabilitation. Many don’t realize the daily commitment it takes. Peddy’s teammates commended her for consistently showing up and working hard to get back to a place where she could contribute for the team.
“She (Shey) put in countless hours to get back on this court,” Mercury center Brittney Griner said. “She went through it. It wasn’t the most pleasant time, but she put in every single minute to get back on this court.”
Staying mentally strong throughout a lengthy rehab process is difficult from the moment of the injury until the day the player returns to action. Many don’t realize that the process is almost never linear. No player can expect to consistently improve from one day to the next.
Setbacks happen. There are always bumps in the road. Healing and ramp-up strategies are of the utmost importance to make sure athletes don’t re-injure themselves or need subsequent procedures.
Peddy was lucky to have Wengertsman on hand, who, in addition to serving as head athletic trainer and physical therapist for the Mercury, has aided with the rehab for injured Suns players and served on Team USA’s athletic training staff for the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“For any athlete rehab process, there’s tons of ups and downs,” Wengertsman said. “We just tried to celebrate the small wins. Things like walking without a boot for the first time, going up and down stairs, then it was getting on the court and shooting for the first time. Then just a few weeks ago, it was playing in the first game.”
Peddy is averaging 5.3 points, 2.3 assists, one rebound and 0.8 steals in the four games since her return. She accumulated seven assists in last Tuesday’s loss to the Seattle Storm, a feat she accomplished only twice all of last season.
As this season continues and Peddy gets more comfortable during games, she plans on continuing one of the hobbies she found while looking for ways to keep busy since being on the court wasn’t a possibility.
Peddy had been filming the team over the past two years, taking short videos of locker room shenanigans, team travels and behind-the-scenes lighthearted moments fans don’t normally see. After her injury, she decided to document her recovery process, and while having more time on her hands, she began publishing the footage on her social media as a personal vlog under the name Peddy Views.
She plans to continue with her Peddy Views enterprise this season.
“This year I wanted to show our fans something different, a different side of us,” Peddy said. “I want to be able to say I don’t just play basketball. I can do a bunch of different things … We’ve got some good topics coming up, so I’m excited to share them throughout the season.”
After all she’s been through, the entire Mercury organization feeds off Peddy’s positive attitude and leadership. She draws out player’s personalities and showcases them for the fans. She is a vocal leader from a basketball standpoint. Despite the severity of her injury, she already looks to be on the path to a return to “Playoff Peddy” form.
“She’s just such a great person to have in your ear,” Mercury forward Michaela Onyenwere said. “Even when she was out, she was really vocal, being a really good leader, so to see her be able to have this moment, it’s just a testament of who she is as a person. She’s worked really hard to get to this point, so I’m really excited for her.”
Added Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard: “She’s so important for our team. Shey’s done so many great things for the Mercury over the years, and I’m sure this year we’re going to see a lot of that again.”