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Elena Delle Donne on grueling recovery: ‘Am I ever going to feel better?’

(Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Elena Delle Donne is back, and she might be better than ever.

After missing the majority of the past two seasons due to herniated discs in her back, which led to two separate surgeries, the forward is fully healthy.

In a recent interview with WSLAM, Delle Donne opened up about her journey since winning her first – and the Mystics’ first – WNBA title in 2019. Though winning a title was her “number one thing,” she recognizes that it came with a cost. She played through a broken nose, a badly bruised knee and the three herniated discs to win it all.

“It was worth every sacrifice,” Delle Donne told WSLAM about the 2019 season, in which she also became the first woman to shoot 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from behind the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line in a single season.

But she knew that the damage her body sustained throughout the season and the playoffs was something that she needed to address.

“It was a week or two after [the championship], of just celebration, elation and like, ‘This was all so worth it.’ It was so much fun,” she said. “It was everything and more than I ever could have imagined, and then there was that moment where it was time to end the celebration, get into rehab and see what I had done to my body.”

Initially, Delle Donne was expected to be out for three months. But the herniated discs caused severe nerve damage. Recovery was further impacted by her Lyme disease, which affected the inflammation of her injuries.

“I’ve had other injuries and pretty much the timeline was right, but this was something where I was like, ‘Am I ever going to feel better?’ There were some days I wasn’t even thinking about basketball,” she added. “It was like, I am 31 years old, and I can’t [even] go have dinner and sit down with my wife to have a meal because of the pain I’m in.”

But, after playing three games total in the last two seasons, Delle Donne is back to full health and making an impact on the court. She’s helped power the Mystics to a 3-0 start to the season.

In the Mystics’ season opener against the Indiana Fever, Delle Donne put up 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

She didn’t play the next game against the Minnesota Lynx, opting not to travel with the team. Both she and head coach Mike Thibault are easing her back into a heavier workload. As a result, she’ll miss the first few road games of the season.

But the missed game didn’t slow down the forward, as she again led the team in scoring with 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists for the third game against the Las Vegas Aces.

“She’s starting to look like herself, which is kind of crazy because with a back injury, it’s connected to everything,” Mystics guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough told WSLAM. “I know some people may be expecting her to be a step slower, but to me she looks great.”

Perhaps even more frightening – at least for opponents – is that some think she might be better than before.

“I noticed that she’s a lot stronger,” her Mystics teammate Tianna Hawkins said. “She’s a lot more aggressive offensively.”