Professional athlete turned science teacher: Kaela Yuen

Lucas Counts, Online Editor

“As soon as I knew playing basketball professionally was an option, that’s what I wanted to do,” Liberty science teacher Kaela Yuen said. 

Yuen’s passion for basketball was sparked when she began playing in fourth grade. For Yuen, she finally found something that no one else in her family had done. Growing up with a mom who was a track star and a dad who played football, she played a lot of different sports; however, she quickly discovered her love for basketball’s skill-oriented disposition. 

“You don’t have to be the best dribbler or the best shooter,” Yuen said. “You can be a rebounder or a great defender. There are so many different ways you can excel at basketball, so you’re always developing.” 

When people hear the words “professional athlete”, many think of mansions, a garage filled with Lamborghinis, and fat paychecks. However, this is not always the reality.

“Most think that it’s a super glamorous life,” Yuen said. “Depending on the level of professionalism you’re at, this can be true or false. When I played overseas, I had two practices a day, lived in countries where I didn’t speak the language, and I’d be either at the gym or in my apartment.”

Lebron James might be pulling into a red carpet event in his Rolls-Royce Phantom, but for Yuen, “it was a lot of Skyping and binge-watching TV shows.” When she was actively playing, she dedicated six to eight hours to practicing basketball every day.

“I missed weddings and funerals. I was away from home to live out this dream of mine,” Yuen said. “I sacrificed a lot, but I don’t have any regrets.”

Yuen retired from playing overseas after three seasons. It wasn’t all clear skies and shining waterfalls, either, for the Canadian National Team guard and University of Oregon alum.

“When I started playing professionally, I lost some of the fun and love for my sport that I had,” Yuen said. “Mentally, it was tough to hold onto the joy I experienced while playing, but otherwise, I look fondly back on my memories and experiences.” 

Playing in nearly two dozen countries to play the game she loved, Yuen has set foot on every continent in the world with the exceptions being Africa and Antarctica. 

“Immersing myself in cultures that were so different from mine was my favorite part,” Yuen said. “Building friendships with people who spoke another language was a beautiful thing.” 

Now an Equity Building Leader, experiences from coast to coast have prepared her to be a culturally aware team member in Liberty’s science department. After retiring from the game that found itself at the forefront of her identity, Yuen turned to teaching.

“I wanted a job where I could be a present mother and wife for my family,” Yuen said. “That was super important to me.”

There is a lot of instability in many basketball careers; assistants, coaches, and consultants are fired, hired, fired again, and plenty of moving is involved. Yuen didn’t want this lifestyle for her kids. 

“I’m so happy teaching,” Yuen said. “Like basketball, teaching is absolutely a team sport. I consider my students as my teammates, and we’re all on this journey together.”