At 18-months old Kaiona Kuehu-Enriques is not yet a threat on the court, but she is a dominant force in the life of Shawna Lei Kuehu. While parenthood is not rare among college athletes, it is unique when that athlete is a female.
"She's very smart." says Kuehu, of her daughter Kaiona. "She loves people. She gives me something to look forward to."
More than a year ago, envisioning the Punahou graduate as a mother was unlikely. One of the most decorated basketball players (male or female) to come out of the state of Hawaii, Kuehu led Punahou to three state titles and was named the Gatorade state player of the year twice.
However, while on scholarship at UH and midway through her college career, Kuehu learned she was pregnant. Conflicted between hoops and mother hood, Kuehu chose to do both.
"I wanted everyone to feel comfortable, to accept the fact that I was pregnant and that meant a lot of changes, not just for me but for this program."
The toughest part was getting back into shape.
"I had numerous conversations with coach (Laura) Beeman about how I was so scared about being so much behind teammates physically. Honestly, it was hard work, it was hard work. and it was scary. It was a challenge. But I thought it was going to be the sweetest comeback ever."
Winning her teammates over was the easy part. Last season, the Rainbow Wahine hit the road for 10-days, unable to part with her infant daughter, Shawna asked her coach and teammates if Kaiona could join Mommy.
"The fact that was the longest road trip of the season and coach Beeman understood how much I'd miss her and how much that would take a toll on me." says Kuehu.
A loving family has helped Shawna and her boy friend Corey raise their daughter. Relying heavily on the help of her grandmother and even more on time management. Kuehu's day begins at 6am. Toss in a full slate of classes...practices...and homework...and Shawna says she won't hit the pillow until around 1am.
So, where does she get the energy? "In her." Kuehu says with a smile as she watches her daughter play carefree on the court of the Stan Sheriff Center. "Everything else in my schedule... (we) take it all and then she gives me the reason to keep going everyday."
"It's a challenge," says Kuehu's boyfriend Corey Enriques, who watches her juggle a demanding schedule each day.
"I think that's probably one of the biggest things she's learned to grow and adapt to the challenges that have come up."
As Shawna petitions for a final year of eligibility at UH, professional hoops remains her dream. However, being Mommy isn't a bad gig either.
"I've been battling with whether to choose to keep playing basketball," says Kuehu. "Even through this next year. Or, to choose whether to just be a mother. Honestly, we'll just let the next step take us wherever it takes us. Right now I'll just sit in the moment and enjoy it."