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Asia Durr: A COVID-19 ‘long-hauler’ whose basketball career is in jeopardy

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“Complicated and arduous” is how Asia Durr characterized her battle with COVID-19 when announcing she’d been medically excused from the 2020 WNBA season. The New York Liberty guard revealed on the season-opening episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that she has no timetable for recovery and no guarantee she can return to basketball.

Las Vegas Aces v New York Liberty
Asia Durr averaged 9.7 points per game for the New York Liberty in 2019.
Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Asia Durr, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft who was medically excused from the 2020 season amid an ongoing battle with COVID-19, was featured on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” Tuesday night and it was revealed that she is still experiencing COVID symptoms that could delay her return to basketball much longer than expected.

Durr, 23, is now considered a COVID “long-hauler” — someone who survived the virus but didn't completely recover. As described in the “Real Sports” piece, symptoms for long-haulers include “debilitating fatigue, difficulty breathing, brain fog and vertigo.”

There is no timetable for when Durr or other long-haulers will recover. Dr. Emily Brigham, who runs a clinic for long-haulers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., described telling patients, “There’s a chance that this may not go away.”

NCAA Division II long-distance runner Natalie Hakala, also a COVID long-hauler, hopes her story can help others.

“Hopefully I serve as a warning,” she said. “They focus so heavily on the deaths. But this can harm more than just two weeks or death. It seems like those are the two options: it’s either two weeks or it’s death. And I’m an in-betweener.”

Durr, Hakala and a third athlete — Division III hockey player Nicole Knudson — are all struggling with everyday tasks months after their COVID diagnoses.

Stabbing pains in the lungs, vomiting

“There’s days where I feel great, like I could go out and go to the store or I could clean up,” Durr said. “And then there’s days where I’m like, ‘I just have to stay in the bed,’ and you just feel like you got hit by a bus.”

She also opened up about some of the horrors she experienced while at her sickest with the virus.

“I couldn’t breath, I was spitting up blood,” she said. “(I had) lung pain that was just so severe. It felt like somebody took a long knife and was stabbing you in your lungs each second. I woke up two o’clock in the morning vomiting, going back and forth to the bathroom. I couldn’t keep anything down.”

Durr was diagnosed with COVID-19 on June 8.

The New York Liberty announced on July 7 that Durr would be sitting out the 2020 WNBA season. She then missed an opportunity to play overseas, in France.

“I haven’t been able to (pick up a ball and play),” Durr said. “It’s really challenging for me. But I’ve talked to doctors and they’ve told me I’m not cleared yet. I’m not cleared to be able do anything physically, which could cause flare-ups.”

“That’s what’s really hard for me,” she added. “Because in life whenever something was hard, I would go play. I can’t even do that now. I can’t even shoot a free throw.”

Durr shared that she has lost 32 pounds during the ordeal, and that the thought of never being able to play basketball again has crossed her mind.

Doctors do not yet know how to treat long-haulers or why they continue to be affected while others recover. Becoming a long-hauler hasn’t been linked to any underlying health conditions; even healthy athletes like Durr are among those affected.

How many COVID-19 patients become long-haulers also is unknown. However, reporter Mary Carillo revealed during the “Real Sports” segment that more women have reported ongoing symptoms than men, but doctors are unsure if that means women are more susceptible to long-term symptoms. It could be that men may not be reporting their symptoms as frequently.

Durr played college basketball at the University of Louisville. With 2,485 points, she is second all-time in points scored in the Cardinals’ storied history.