Sylvia Fowles

When Sylvia Fowles is done with her basketball career, she'll embark on a career in funeral services. (Phil Dembinski / For RedEye / August 11, 2014)

Think back to the last time you got a haircut.

Picture sitting in the chair and the stylist taking scissors and a comb to your hair.

For some of you reading this, remember the manicure that followed the haircut.

Now imagine all that as a dead person.

That's where Sylvia Fowles comes in.

The Sky center is returning to school in September to continue working toward an associate's degree in funeral services.

You read that correctly. The two-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time WNBA All-Star and reigning league Defensive Player of the Year is studying to become a mortician. What started as a desire to prep the dead by doing their hair and makeup for funerals has transformed into something more.

"My original plan was to become [a mortuary beautician] and do hair, nails, makeup and dress," Fowles said. "And then I started taking courses online and found out that you have to learn about the embalming process and learn about all the body parts. I was like 'Why not learn how to do everything?' That's just another opportunity for me to be that good at my job."

This isn't a spur-of-the-moment decision, either. It's something she has considered since she was 9 years old.

"When my grandma passed, for some reason the grandkids thought it would be a good idea to give her a last kiss while she was in the casket," Fowles said. "When I gave her a kiss, my lips itched for the whole service. Ever since that day, I told my mom they didn't do something right, and that I would go into [the funeral services industry] and make sure I would [prep] people right so their face didn't itch."

What could have been a traumatic experience for most children was fascinating for the Miami native who saw herself as "a weird kid."

"I didn't do the norm [as a kid]," she said. "I wasn't outside playing sports. I wasn't out running with my friends. I was in the house playing funeral service with my teddy bears and stuff like that."

Those feelings toward the dead aren't shared among some of Fowles' teammates.

"It is kind of creepy," Sasha Goodlett said. "But as creepy as it is, it's a really courageous job, and it kind of fits with Syl's personality in trying to give to others and be there for other people."

Goodlett, who started at center for the Sky while Fowles recovered from hip surgery, sees a smooth transition when her teammate hangs up her sneakers.

"It really does fit her personality, just for the simple fact that Syl can be goofy but can also be really serious," she said. "I feel like with that profession there are times when you're going to have to put a smile on someone's face and times when you need to be serious.

"Anytime there's a death in the family, it really brings out the worst in some families and the best in others. When it brings out the worst, she'll be able to settle everyone down and remind them why they're there, and when it brings out the best, she'll be able to keep them in a joyful spirit."

Fowles' personality and willingness to help others are something her mother, Arrittio, pointed out when asked about her daughter's post-basketball pursuits.

"Syl has always been on the quiet side," Arrittio Fowles said. "She likes her alone time. She also likes giving back, and I guess this field offers the best of both worlds. She'll get to work alone while also helping families with the grieving process."

Arrittio Fowles added that she doesn't think her daughter will be scared of seeing the dead on a daily basis, a sentiment with which Sylvia agreed.

"I'm not going to be scared of anything, especially nothing on a dead body," Sylvia Fowles said. "That stuff piques my interest. … I'm that gutty person. I want to see everything. I want to see the guts, the heart, and I want to get into it."

With two more years of class remaining and internships to follow that, Fowles has time to win over her teammates and family with her enthusiasm for the field. Until then, she shared a one-liner she heard last year when talking to her doctor about her career plans.

"People will be dying to see me," Fowles said, joking. "One of my doctors told me that, and it's probably the best way to get a laugh from someone when I tell them about my plans. It grosses out some of my family and teammates, but somebody's gotta do the job."

jstpierre@tribune.com | @jstpierre

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