The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Sparks’ Sydney Wiese overcame the coronavirus. Now she’s ready for the WNBA season.

Sparks guard Sydney Wiese defends the Mystics' Natasha Cloud during a game last season. Wiese had a two-week battle with the covid-19 in March. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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When Sydney Wiese traveled to Spain during the WNBA offseason last October to play basketball in the Catalan town of La Seu d’Urgell, no one could have forecast that within months Spain would become one of the European hotspots for the novel coronavirus.

On March 11, as news emerged that Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for the virus and that the NBA was suspending its season, the Spanish women’s professional league quickly followed suit. With the uncertainty surrounding an impending U.S. ban on travel from European countries, Wiese, a 6-foot guard who plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, decided to return home.

Little did she know she would come down with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, within a day or two.

“I could just tell the week leading up to me going home that I didn’t feel right,” Wiese said. “I didn’t really have a cold, but I didn’t really have the flu. My body just felt like it was having an experience that it had never been through before.”

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On March 12, the day before she returned to the United States, she lost her sense of taste and smell, which was not yet widely recognized as a symptom of the coronavirus. She placed a raw ginger root on her tongue and recalled a burning sensation on the roof of her mouth. But she could not decipher the taste. A slight cough and night sweats soon followed.

Those early days of uncertainty and an ensuing two-week battle with covid-19 in many ways seem like a long time ago for Wiese, who in May signed a two-year contract extension with the Sparks. She is preparing for the Sparks’ season, which begins Saturday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and hasn’t experienced any lingering symptoms while working her way back into playing shape.

The two-month delay of the WNBA season allowed her to ease back into competitive basketball.

“I think [she] learned how to handle herself, professionally, personally, in such a high level that even her experience with covid and what comes with that she still found a way to come into training camp and into the season in shape and committed to get better this season‚” Sparks Coach Derek Fisher said. “She’s going to be even better this year.”

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The WNBA season is scheduled to start a 22-game regular season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Saturday, and Wiese is looking forward to being back on the court.

“I wanted to do what I could to make the season as great as it can be and show unity in the face of a pandemic, social injustices, racial inequalities. It’s a great time for our league and our team to come together during all of that,” she said in a telephone interview.

Wiese, 25, said she has no problems with players who decided to sit out the season. “We all have sacrificed to be here,” she said. “We all made the choice to be here and those who didn’t, who decided to opt out, [I] completely respect and understand the decision. I think this is a season that I don’t know if it’ll ever happen like this again. We are living history right now.”

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Inside the “Wubble” — the WNBA’s version of the bubble — players are tested daily as one of many safety measures to prevent the spread and contraction of the coronavirus. Although she now has antibodies in her blood, Wiese remembers just a few months earlier it was a struggle for her just to get a test.

Wiese made it back to the United States on March 14, with layovers in Mexico City and Los Angeles before finally landing in her hometown, Phoenix. Considering her mild symptoms and that her roommate also was feeling sick, Wiese was adamant about being tested.

After she was denied a test twice because of what was determined a lack of symptoms, Wiese took to Twitter to vent.

“The problem we are facing is lack of accessibility to testing,” she wrote. “I was denied two times because I wasn’t showing enough symptoms, but I am someone who SHOULD receive a test. Unsure if I am well or not, some symptoms, but not the main ones.”

Once the loss of smell and taste were added to the list of covid-19 symptoms, Wiese finally qualified to be tested. She tested positive.

She quarantined in her childhood home with her parents, Troy and Patti. The Wiese family maintained social distancing while Sydney recovered. Handwashing was a must and her family members used separate rooms and bathrooms. They regularly wiped down appliances such as the refrigerator and television sets. Hugs, a family staple, were replaced with air hugs.

“You don’t really realize how often you take physical touch for granted,” Wiese said. “When I could finally hug my parents ... I was pretty emotional just because going through an experience like that where you don’t really know what’s going on, you just want to protect each other.”

With little known about the virus and effective treatments, Wiese curated her own home remedies for her recovery. She relied on vitamin C, garlic, ginger and turmeric to boost her immune system. She ate six to eight mandarin oranges a day for two weeks and stayed hydrated by drinking water and tea.

She gauged the return of her taste and smell by smelling apple cider vinegar and drinking water with a spoonful of vinegar daily.

During her recovery, Wiese spent time working out and strengthening different muscles in preparation for her fourth WNBA season.

“I wanted to make sure that as I was recovering, there was no lingering symptoms or anything that would stick with me in the big picture,” she said.

On certain days when fatigue set in, she took the opportunity to rest while taking a special interest in cooking and baking shows on Netflix with the expectation that her senses would return.

“It made me think one day I will be able to taste the cupcake,” Wiese said. “This was going to help push me through every day, and then eventually, when I had my first cupcake and I could taste it, oh, my gosh, what a joy!”