Alyssa Thomas's return from Achillies injury subject of documentary
Mohegan — The spotlight is not Alyssa Thomas’s thing. The Connecticut Sun forward is friendly but reserved in public, preferring to let her teammates do the talking.
It was striking, then, to see Thomas both on the microphone and emotional before a crowd at Mohegan Sun lounge Novelle on Thursday night after it had just watched the premiere of “The Comeback,” a 30-plus minute documentary about her astounding return from a torn Achilles last WNBA season.
“I’m about to cry again,” Thomas said with a chuckle.
The documentary, directed by Grant Livingston, chronicles Thomas’s rehab after she tore her Achilles near the end of practice with her overseas team, ZVVZ USK Praha in the Czech Republic, on Jan. 11, 2021. It was part of a red-carpet event attended by the team, Mohegan Sun management and their friends and family.
“I love the documentary,” Thomas said. “I think they did a great job with it. I’m really excited for everyone to get to see it. I really think (they’ll) see me in a vulnerable position, just my experience and how hard it was for me to go through that.
“Yeah, I’m not a big person when it comes to attention and the spotlight. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone.”
Livingston, the team’s director of content, said the documentary was the organization’s idea. He said that staff spent over 300 hours in the post-production room working on it and dozens were interviewed for it, among them Bobby and Tina Klotzbeecher-Thomas (Alyssa Thomas’s parents), teammate and girlfriend DeWanna Bonner and head coach and general manager Curt Miller.
“We haven’t really done a piece like this before, a long-form piece,” Livingston said. “We knew that we had something pretty good, told the untold story, and we wanted to premiere it in a big way.”
Thomas has long been known for her toughness. She played with two torn labrums during the 2019 WNBA Finals. She dislocated her right shoulder during Game 2 of the 2020 WNBA semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces on Sept. 22. She started two days later and led her team to victory. She has refused to get surgery on either shoulder, believing it would interfere with her winning a WNBA championship.
A torn Achilles is arguably the most devastating injury to an athlete and the belief was that Thomas would miss the entire 2021 WNBA season. Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm said in the documentary that she thought her career was over when she tore the Achilles in her right ankle in April 2019.
Thomas had surgery on Jan. 19, 2021.
“I don’t know if I can explain it, her level of toughness,” said Nicole Alexander, the Sun’s head athletic trainer, in the documentary. “Having someone who returned to play nine months after Achilles surgery is unreal.”
Thomas and others get emotional in the documentary. Thomas said the injury was one of the lowest points of her life and that she hardly left her room at her family’s home for days after the surgery. She and her parents credited Bonner for helping get her out of the darkness.
“I walked in (to her room) and I’m, like, ‘OK, let’s get up,’” Bonner said. “‘Let’s go.’”
Thomas said, “She pushed me to get out of the house and get my spirits up.”
The video had footage from a practice on May 30, 2021, in which Thomas ran for the first time since her surgery, up and down the baseline at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I said, ‘I think you’re ready to run,’” Sun strength and conditioning coach Analisse Rios said during the documentary. “She was hesitant, and she was like, ‘Alright, I trust both you and Nicole. Let’s do it.’ This was months before what should’ve been her recovery.
“Seeing AT back (running) and just seeing her smile as she came back (from running) and all her teammates were clapping and cheering as she ran back. … I just stood there and I just cried.”
Livingston said the video will be made available for all to watch and that an announcement about it is forthcoming.
“Man, you’ve got me crying again,” Thomas smiled and said to an off-screen interviewer to conclude the documentary. “Jeez. That’s enough of this video. We’re done.”