TEMPE, Ariz. - Donovan McNabb and Ann Frederick will celebrate their 10th anniversary in March. It was love at first stretch, rotation, twist and flex.
"You are going to be part of my career," Frederick remembers McNabb telling her the day they met, after his 60-minute introduction to the unique flexibility program that she developed as a second career after teaching dance for 20 years.
McNabb has never wavered. He not only has included the Tempe woman in his in-season and offseason conditioning work since - he has a second home in the Phoenix area and spends most of his offseason here - but also has introduced Frederick to some Eagles teammates.
Many of them know her simply as The Stretch Lady, her trademarked nickname. As in, "What room is The Stretch Lady in?" - a question that Frederick said became so common during the Eagles' last few playoff appearances that she simply instructed the desk clerk at the team hotel to send the players ahead, expediting the process.
Last week, The Stretch Lady was in Room 906 at the Renaissance Hotel, a few miles from Giants Stadium, but it was not McNabb's turn for treatment.
Frederick was flown in from Arizona by Eagles safety Brian Dawkins late Friday, and she worked on him for 2 1/2 hours Saturday night, basically from the time he stepped off the team bus until team meetings began. They had another session early last Sunday morning before the Eagles' victory over the Giants set up their NFC title game against the Arizona Cardinals here this Sunday.
"Usually these guys are a freaking train wreck," says Frederick, who also happens to have 23 Cardinals as clients. She adds she did "what I always do: sit up in a hotel room and undo the ravages of the game."
It is her job. Frederick, a trim, sassy 40-something, runs the Stretch to Win Center with husband Chris out of a small office that includes a large leather couch, a big-screen plasma TV and candy galore. She serves as the director of flexibility training and Chris oversees physical therapy.
The Fredericks' office is between a Catholic church and a mortuary on a busy street in suburban Tempe. The neighbors deal in prayer. She strays to the practical.
She has developed a program that concentrates on the body's fascial system, the connective tissue between the joints. She "opens" the joints, regaining some lost space, before stretching a limb through its range of motion, all the while keeping her patient belted to a multidirectional table.
"I say if there is a heartbeat and a pulse, there is room for improvement. It applies to everybody. I just got into the world of the pro athlete," says Frederick, who with her husband co-authored a book in 2006: "Stretch to Win: Flexibility for improved speed, power, and agility."
"I evaluate what is going on with their bodies and then I basically go to work to regain the flexibility that has been lost through training and the cumulative effects of his playing football."
McNabb has flown the Fredericks to all of the recent Eagles' road playoff games, and they spent almost 2 weeks in Jacksonville, Fla., leading up to the Eagles' 24-21 loss to New England in the Super Bowl 4 years ago.
Frederick was basically on call then, when her table was set up in the training room at the team hotel. It made for long days. Sometimes she started as early as 4:30 a.m. and worked until 2 a.m. the next day.
"It was a lot of work, but Andy Reid came in one day and thanked me," she says. "He told me the speed of the defense improved, and he noticed that."
McNabb and Frederick were introduced through then-Arizona State University strength coach Tim McClellan, who worked with Frederick on the 1996 training staff for the U.S. Olympic Team. McNabb immediately became her most famous client, and soon he was her biggest fan.
"I have worked with Ann, The Stretch Lady, for a number of years," McNabb says. "In fact, every time we have been in the playoffs, she has come to Philadelphia to help me and some of my teammates. She knows her craft as well as anyone.
"What's really amazing is that for a woman of her stature, she can stretch me and some of my bigger teammates the way she does. She's a dynamo."
Her clientele has grown to include Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and a handful of other Eagles, not to mention Charles Barkley, Emmitt Smith, Cris Carter, Mike Tyson and Olympic sprinter Sanya Richards, a gold medalist in the 4 x 400 relay in 2004 and '08.
Defensive end Bertrand Berry, one of her Cardinals clients, says McNabb is recognized by the Phoenix-area public when they hang out in the offseason.
"Of course," Berry said. "His face is unmistakable. There is no way you cannot know who he is. He's a fun-loving guy, and his personality always shines through. He is very outgoing. He loves to talk to people. He's a great guy. How could you not love him?"
It is family affair. Ann Frederick usually watches the Eagles' playoff games from McNabb's suite, with his wife Raquel, mother Wilma and father Sam. She has been invited to attend the ceremony when Dawkins and his wife renew their marriage vows this summer, and has a standing invitation to visit McNabb's Philadelphia-area home.
"I had to laugh - I opened the pantry and, dear God, there was more Chunky soup than a human should be allowed. Are you kidding me?" she says, laughing.
When Frederick's mother, Dell, passed away in November, McNabb called to share her grief, even as he was struggling with his own issues.
"He said, 'If you need to smile, I've got some good jokes for you. Call me.' And this is in the middle of the time he got benched. I thought 'Gosh, D, you have enough on your plate, man.' He's amazing," Frederick says. "He genuinely cares."
Although Frederick did not work on McNabb last weekend, he came into the training room to talk. They watched Arizona upset Carolina, spoke about McNabb's health, and about another possible game in the near future.
"We talked about going back to the [Super] Bowl together to get that ring," she says. "To get three points away was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever experienced."
The irony of Frederick's relationship with McNabb, Dawkins and the Eagles is that she lives in a quiet Tempe neighborhood that is about two long David Akers field goals from the Cardinals' training quarters. But for her, it is about the individuals, not the teams, a reason she has turned down overtures from several pro teams.
She had a Monday session with Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who missed the playoff victory in Carolina because of a sore left hamstring. She also stretches such Arizona stars as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and safety Adrian Wilson, along with Berry.
" 'Fitz' was giving me a hard time," The Stretch Lady says. "I said, 'Fitz, you think after a decade I am not going to take care of Don?'
"I love and adore and respect and appreciate the Cardinals. But truth be told, my heart is with the Eagles. Honestly, I want to be with Donovan and get that ring." *