ROSHAN FERNANDEZ Tribune News Service
SEATTLE — Among the Seattle Storm’s players and the other sports training staff members, Melony Cable is known as “Magic Mel.” New players don’t even know her full name, she says with a smile.
The nickname is still a little embarrassing for the Storm’s team acupuncturist. But over the years, she’s come to accept it as a sign of endearment from the players and her fellow training staff members.
“Now I just take it as a joke, like ‘You’re magic, every time you touch them,’ but it’s a nice gesture,” Cable said. “It means a lot that we’re helping (the players) so much and they appreciate that.”
It’s not just Cable, either. The Storm’s training staff consists of two chiropractors, a nutritionist, a massage therapist, two sports performance coaches, two team doctors, an athletic trainer and a physical therapist, among others. No other WNBA franchise lists such an extensive staff on their online roster, though other teams could be contracting outside specialists that aren’t full-time employees.
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As the Storm embark on another playoff run — their seventh straight — it’s people like Cable and other trainers who help the players recover from the rigors of the WNBA season.
And for 41-year-old Sue Bird, who’s set to retire at the end of this year after 21 seasons, that kind of extensive care fuels longevity.
“Sometimes one (care method) takes precedence over another, but for the most part, it’s the combination of it all,” Bird said. “It’s been crucial.”
General manager Talisa Rhea calls the Storm’s nearly dozen-strong training staff a “well-rounded, fully comprehensive care team.” Two unaffiliated sports medicine doctors, and another WNBA team’s head athletic trainer, all agree that the Storm’s staff is “comprehensive.”
“We have a leg up sometimes because we have so many resources that help us to stay healthy,” head coach Noelle Quinn said.
The Storm’s ownership has made it a priority to provide all the possible resources for players to perform at the highest level, Rhea said.
The extensiveness of a team’s medical training staff is partially dependent on finances, said Dr. Ashwin Rao, who’s practiced with UW Athletics and the Seahawks. But the players’ needs and the structure of the athletic staff’s “care model” all factor in, too, he said.
The Storm staff has helped Breanna Stewart through a series of Achilles injuries and Bird through multiple left knee issues in past seasons, among other players.
This year, no Storm player has missed a game due to a basketball-related injury, according to the team’s pregame availability reports.
That’s because the sports training staff’s job doesn’t just start once there’s an injury.
Every practice and game means wear-and-tear on the athlete’s body, chiropractor Dustin Williams said, so the medical staff tries to be “preventive as opposed to reactive,” he added.
Williams uses tire alignment on a car as an analogy: If the tires are slightly off, they’ll wear out faster. The same applies to athletes and their body mechanics.
“It sets the mindset that this is just part of what you do, not something that you just do if there’s a problem,” massage therapist Erica Nash said. “You don’t want to see their career end because there’s buildup on stuff, and so we’re trying not to let things build up. We’re never trying to be going uphill, we’re trying to stay steady as long as we can.”
Watching the players helps the staff notice patterns and formula treatment plans. Nash isn’t an avid basketball follower, but she knows body mechanics well enough to be able to tell that a player’s hip is tight just based on the way they’re running.
The variety of perspectives the various members of the training staff bring can help them better diagnose a problem and figure out a recovery plan, said sports performance coach Emily Blurton.
The combination works together seamlessly, the staff said. Chiropractors focus on structure, massage focuses on muscles and soft tissue — but primarily on the surface — and acupuncture gets “deep,” Cable said. Those treatments aren’t long-term solutions, Dr. Rao said, but they’re still important in preparing and recovering from individual games. Physical therapists and sports performance coaches can create a plan to make more permanent changes instead of repeatedly treating symptoms.
“It’s nice to know that you’re doing your thing, but someone else is doing their thing. You’re basically overlapping, but you’re filling in the pie,” Williams said.
Seven years ago, Blurton convinced the Storm to add Cable to their staff since acupuncture was becoming more mainstream as a sports medicine treatment. Blurton had previously sent non-Storm clients to Cable and saw how successful acupuncture could be. Since then, the results have shown.
Bird sees Cable frequently, even in the offseason, and is a big acupuncture advocate, Cable said. Ezi Magbegor said that dry-needling acupuncture really helps when her calf issues from the past resurface. Breanna Stewart said she sees Cable when her Achilles tendon is tight — she had injuries on both legs including a rupture of her right Achilles in 2019, so quick pokes into those scars can instantly help it loosen.
“It’s just another way to actively recover your muscles, your body, your sore spots, and just kind of de-stress a little bit,” Stewart said. “It’s nice that we have access to all the different types of medical staff, medical help, because it definitely wasn’t always this way.”
For Storm chiropractors Anita LeBlanc and Williams, the results are noticeable too. Joints and muscles can get shifted, Williams explains, so during treatment, he tries to identify why a joint is stuck. If it’s an alignment issue with the joint, he makes an adjustment.
“The adjustment is basically trying to get joint-motion back … so that it takes pressure off the muscle,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to keep those two things (joints and muscles) kind of working in harmony.”
For Nash, massage can involve using as many as 15 different techniques, even if it’s a short 12-minute session. Many players have regular routines that they do pregame and massage is often incorporated into part of that.
And for Blurton, who typically starts in the weight room with players before practice, it’s about getting mobility in their soft tissue to prep their bodies. Sports performance consultant Susan King Borchadt and athletic trainer Brittany Vaughn do the same. Blurton said she leads players through everything from lifting exercises, blood flow restriction training, and resistance-band exercises to non-basketball activities like pickleball.
“She’s always out there trying to get muscles activated,” Williams said of Blurton. “She’s like a cup of coffee to the muscles: Wake them up so they can do what they do.”
But most of all, the training staff takes input from the players. They know their bodies best, and they understand what it’ll take to increase their longevity, so the trainers regularly ask the players what they need, LeBlanc said.
Then, the staff develops multidisciplinary care plans. The players tell them how they felt after, and that feedback is how the training staff measures its success.
“If you talk to anybody that’s worked with the modalities all in conjunction, they’re like ‘This is amazing,'” Cable said. “This is a situation where the sum of the whole far exceeds the individual.”