I sometimes feel like the only thing I have written about, talked about, and thought about the past two-and-a-half years is Long Covid. Part of it is that managing my Long Covid symptoms — crushing fatigue, cognitive impairment, nervous system dysfunction, exercise intolerance, vitamin deficiencies, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, chronic pain — is a full-time job. But most of it is that I don’t feel like I have ever really expressed myself about Long Covid in a way that has actually allowed people to see me. I have never been so desperate to be understood. Which is why queer nonbinary WNBA star AD Durr’s Long Covid documentary, Never Knocked Down, had me sobbing from start to finish. For the first time since Covid hit me in March 2020, I saw myself and my own struggles, lessons, and triumphs reflected back at me. It is — and I do not say this often — a must-watch for literally everyone.
AD Durr was the second pick of the 2019 WNBA draft, landing with the New York Liberty after a stellar college career at Louisville, where they were nearly unanimously voted ACC Player of the Year. They averaged 10 points and 27 minutes their WNBA rookie season, a solid outing in a league with a notoriously steep learning curve. And then, when the first wave of Covid swept through New York City in spring 2020, they were flattened by it, and became one of the first people in the world to deal with Long Covid, something that didn’t even have a name at the time.
Never Knocked Down, — which was produced by the sports collective TOGETHXR in partnership with Lebron James’ athlete empowerment brand, UNINTERRUPTED — follows AD as they seek treatment for their symptoms, and try to keep training to play a professional sport despite the fact that every action they take has completely out of proportion physical consequences. It’s the trickiest thing about managing post-viral illness: Your body often doesn’t respond to what’s happening until hours or days later, so it’s impossible to “listen” to it, and to know when to stop. After even a light workout, without cardio, AD finds themself nauseous and vomiting, with burning chest pain and the inability to even lift their head in bed. None of the tenacious, resilient lessons they’ve internalized as a world-class athlete matter anymore because “pushing through” is the worst thing they can do. (There are moments where trainers, coaches, and doctors insist that what’s going on with them is mostly mental, which is really my only quibble with the documentary. That’s both incorrect and a dangerous way to frame Long Covid or any post-viral illness.)
AD’s journey with Long Covid is about so much more than getting back on the court. “Covid stripped me of my identity,” they say, as they invite us into sessions with their amazing therapist, who pushes them to go deeper when they talk about their identity, to examine how they came to understand who AD really is, and how they’re choosing to communicate that with the world. During their battle with Long Covid, AD, who was always openly gay, also came out as nonbinary and changed their name to AD. When they’re finally seeing some progress in their recovery, they tell their trainer, “You know what will really motivate me? Call me AD. That’ll hit a switch.” Their parents are trying hard. It’s not easy for them to make the name and pronoun change, but they very clearly love their child very much and want to honor them by getting it right. Taylor Johnson, AD’s fiancée, is with them every step of the way in their recovery journey and their gender journey.
When AD’s therapist asks them who they are, they say: “Who am I? My fiancée calls me her husband. All of my close guy friends call me their brother. It’s just natural. That’s what feels natural to me.”
Never Knocked Down sees AD make their return to the Liberty and struggle with minimal playing time, and then finally find their home when they get traded to the Atlanta Dream, where they start playing major minutes and putting up game-changing numbers. “Identity is so much bigger than just basketball,” AD says after finding success in the ATL. “And now I know, if I can get through Long Covid, I can get through anything in life.”
Never Knocked Down is available to stream for free on YouTube. Follow AD on Twitter for more information about their career and their Long Covid advocacy.
Oh wow, does this look good.
Can’t wait to watch this. I’ve been a big fan of AD’s since their Louisville days.
Thanks for sharing this!!
I really appreciate hearing all the ways they grappled with identity while being sick.
Seeing them have a flare up after exercising was hard and validating. I know others are going through it too intellectually but seeing it is a whole other understanding of not being alone in this experience.
My main concern is also how the “exercise through it” narrative might be interpreted by people who aren’t familiar with Long Covid and post-viral illnesses. It can be really dangerous. I’m glad they feel it worked for them, but I hope it isn’t the main take-away for other people.
Heather, I’d already had this doc on my watchlist, but your writing moved it to the very top (I’m watching it tomorrow). Thank you.
I would never have found this without your review. Thank you SO much.
Thank you for informing us about this interesting documentary.
Thank you for this.
On my watchlist! I’ve appreciated your long covid writing so much and I’m glad that it’s getting more attention in the media