Calling junior forward Shawna-Lei Kuehu of the Rainbow Wahine basketball team “resilient” might be an understatement.
Since her junior year of high school in 2007, Kuehu has been injured or missed playing time in five of those six years. Kuehu has battled through a pair of knee injuries, a shoulder injury and missed time last season to have her first child.
But through it all, Kuehu has remained strong in the face of adversity, fighting back each time to return to the game she loves.
“I have thought about throwing in the towel – a bunch of times actually,” Kuehu said. “But now, there’s a bigger purpose than just myself. There’s me, my daughter, and that just keeps my drive going. During the times where I feel like throwing in the towel, it’s not an option for me. It’s the love for the sport, I guess. Going through things and making it out of it has a lot to do with the people that I have behind me.”
Assistant coach Gavin Petersen, who has observed Kuehu since her days at Punahou School, credits her success to her drive and determination.
“She definitely has the characteristics necessary to go through adversity time and time again,” Petersen said. “She keeps coming back, working hard and putting herself into a position to be successful. I wanted to see if her passion would come back. To me, it has come back.”
Petersen applauds Kuehu for her resiliency and is glad that she is getting the opportunity to play.
“I’m happy for her,” Petersen said. “All of our girls put in such hard work. During the course of the year, it’s school-basketball, school-basketball – kind of like clockwork. For her, having her daughter, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that they can look back on. There’s going to be pictures, interviews, newspaper clippings – all kinds of stuff that she’ll be able to share with her daughter, and one day, she’ll be able to say that ‘You know, mommy sacrificed a lot for me and still was able to follow her dreams.’”
Finally injury-free, Kuehu has come on strong for the Rainbow Wahine, especially in conference season. In Big West play, Kuehu is averaging 9.6 points per game, second-best on the team behind junior forward Kamilah Martin. She also ranks fourth on the team in rebounding with 4.4 per game and leads the ‘Bows with 13 blocked shots.
“It feels really good,” Kuehu said. “It was really frustrating my first year because I wasn’t able to help my team out and that’s a lot of what I want to do. I want to help my team out in any aspect that I can and do anything they need me to do.”
But Kuehu said that the time away from the game has helped her improve as a teammate and a player.
“As a player, you always want to grow,” Kuehu said. “Being a player on the court is one stage of growing. But seeing the court from another perspective, as a coach, is another step of development as an athlete.”
But now, able to play, Kuehu’s contributions have become indispensable.
“She was never really able to come back and have a full season and get back into the flow of the game,” Petersen said. “This season she has, and she’s really showing everyone what she is capable of.”
Hawai‘i is having its best season in years, currently tied for second in the Big West at 7-4, and 11-11 overall. But for a team that has gone through so many losses and disappointments throughout the years, Kuehu stands as a form of inspiration for the squad.
“I could embody that because I’ve gone through so much, and this team has gone through so much and losing a lot of games,” Kuehu said. “Like it was for me, it comes down to the support staff that this team has behind it. It’s all about what we believe in, who we believe in and how much we trust each other.”