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Former Rainbow Wahine basketball player Courtney Gaddis has exchanged her game jersey for a lab coat.

by Lance Tominaga

PERSEVERANCE: pərsəˈvirəns. Per-se-ver-ance. – Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition. (Merriam-Webster)

For Courtney Gaddis, the road to success has been paved with perseverance. It was perseverance, for example, that motivated her after she was cut from her elementary school basketball team (twice). Perseverance served her well during her four years with a struggling University of Hawaii hoops program. And perseverance kept her going when her first attempt at entering medical school was denied.

“It’s been hard, but it was all worth it,” says Gaddis. “Even now, I’m adjusting. I’m still getting used to introducing myself to my patients, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Doctor Gaddis.’”

That’s right, the former Rainbow Wahine player is now Doctor Courtney Gaddis. She recently began a three-year pediatrics residency at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

Hawaii sports fans may remember Gaddis as a hoops standout at La Pietra School and Kalani. In 2006, she led La Pietra to the ILH Division II championship. The following season, after transferring to Kalani for her senior year, Gaddis was an OIA Division I First Team selection.

“Kalani was so fun because I got to play with all my best friends from my club team, Sting,” she recalls. “I’m still friends with all the girls.”

Gaddis had come a long way from her formative years in basketball. She first picked up the sport when she was about six years old, after her younger brother had started playing the game. When she was nine, she tried out for the team at Waialae Elementary but was cut. The next year, she tried out again – and was cut again.

“I just wanted to be on a team,” Gaddis recalls. “I liked basketball because I enjoyed playing with my friends, but at the same time there was the goal of putting the ball in the basket. I just hate running without a purpose! With basketball, you’re always working together as a team to achieve a goal, and that was important to me.

“I started taking on leadership roles when I was in middle school, and I think that helped me develop my game more. I just loved Kevin Garnett. He’s my favorite basketball player. Locally, I really looked up to BJ Itoman. I went to a lot of UH games when I was younger, and watching her play really inspired me.”

As a youngster, Courtney Gaddis (far left) and her friends played hoops for the Mo’ili’ili Sting.

After high school, Gaddis and her best friend, Johanna Sai of Kamehameha-Kapalama, attended Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington to continue their education and basketball careers. Gaddis adapted well to the college game – she scored a season-high 19 points against Willamette – but a return to the Islands was never far from her mind.

“[Whitworth] was fun and a really good experience, but a part of me was always wanting to come back home and play in front of my family and friends,” she says.

Gaddis transferred to UH-Manoa as a walk-on and, per NCAA rules, sat out the 2008-09 campaign. By the following season, Jim Bolla had been replaced by Dana Takahara-Dias as the program’s head coach, and Gaddis found a role as a contributor off the bench. She earned a scholarship prior to her junior season and played alongside the likes of Keisha Kanekoa, Breanna Arbuckle, Allie Patterson, Tara Hittle and Shawna-Lei Kuehu.

On the court, her best season as a Rainbow Wahine was 2011-12, her senior year. Gaddis played in 29 contests (starting one) and scored highs of 14 points and 6 rebounds in a 66-55 victory at Columbia, helping her team snap a seven-game losing streak.

Gaddis and her teammates didn’t win many games – Hawaii was a combined 32-58 in her three seasons in a Rainbow Wahine uniform – but she still treasures the memories she has of her time at Manoa.

“I had a fun time [at UH],” Gaddis recalls. “I enjoyed just hanging out with my teammates, especially on the road. Every road trip gave us some memorable times. At the time, the conference tournament was always in Las Vegas, and it was really fun for our whole team to go to Vegas. New York was also fun.”

Rainbow Wahine Pride: (From left) Kanisha Bello, Courtney Gaddis, Vicky Tagalicod and Keisha Kanekoa.

Gaddis was a three-time WAC All-Academic Team performer for Hawaii.

While Gaddis contributed on the court, she absolutely excelled in the classroom. The pre-med major was named to the WAC All-Academic Team for all three seasons she played at Hawaii.

“My teammates used to tease me because I was always studying,” she says, smiling. “I had to take a lot of tests on the airplane and in hotel rooms. But everyone was great and so supportive. My coaches and teammates knew that I had a lot of things to juggle. And my counselors and academic advisors were all so accommodating. A lot of the faculty at UH would come in on their own time and let me make up labs and [other assignments]. I’m very appreciative of all the support that I’ve had.”

Why go into medicine?

“In middle school and high school, I always loved science,” says Gaddis, explaining her decision. “There was something about science that really intrigued me. Plus, growing up I was sick a lot. Just colds here and there. I would always wonder, “What the heck is wrong with me?” I was curious about the human body, and that definitely helped me go into this field. Also, I’ve always loved kids, and I always felt like my goal and role in life was to do something with kids.”

In October of 2010, Gaddis showed that her affection for children was more than talk. She registered as a bone marrow donor and was able to donate her bone marrow to a four-year-old boy. The odds of finding a genetic match for the child, Gaddis was told, was only one percent. Her diverse ancestry – Gaddis is Caucasian, Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Spanish and Japanese – was a critical factor in their genetic match.

“When I got the call, there was no doubt in my mind,” she says today. “I said, ‘Yeah, of course!’” Being able to actually save someone’s life, to have that opportunity, I’m so lucky. My dream is to one day be able to meet the boy, just to see how he’s doing. Even today, I help out with the [bone marrow] drives. If people have any questions about what it’s like, I can help answer their questions and ease any anxiety they may have.

“Even before that point, I knew I wanted to go into medicine. But that further solidified my decision.”

At the end of her senior season, Gaddis received the Ah Chew Goo Award, which is given to the Rainbow Wahine player who “attains basketball excellence through dedication, determination and perseverance.”

Gaddis graduated in 2012 and applied for the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). She didn’t get in. Undaunted, she earned a spot in the school’s ‘Imi Ho‘ola Post-Baccalaureate Program.

“They take only 12 students, and it’s really rigorous and stressful,” says Gaddis. “But if you pass, then you automatically get into the next JABSOM class. So technically, I did med school for five years.”

That’s five years of intense studying and exam work. Five years of sacrifices.

“Luckily, my family has been very supportive and understanding,” says Gaddis. “I think it’s important to have people understand where you are in your walk in life and to be able to support you. It’s hard when your friends are going out but you have to stay home to study. But my friends made time for me, too. Whenever I had a free day, they’d say, ‘Hey, let’s hang out’ or ‘Let’s go do something.’ It’s always nice to have a lot of support family and friends.”

Gaddis (second row, center) and her fellow JABSOM graduates.

Courtney Gaddis and Christian Taum on their wedding day.

Several of Gaddis’s former UH teammates attended her wedding.

All the hard work, dedication and (that word again) perseverance paid off. In May of this year, Gaddis graduated from medical school. A week later, she married her longtime boyfriend, Christian Taum. “He’s been such a rock for me,” she says.

She just recently started her residency work at Kapiolani Medical Center.

“It’s a big learning curve, and you have to pick things up really fast,” says Gaddis. “But it’s nice because everyone knows I’m just starting. There’s a lot of support. A normal day for me now is waking up at four o’clock in the morning and get in by 4:45. I take care of my patients throughout the day, and then I try to get out by 5:30 or six o’clock. I work six days in a row and then get a day off. Every month, I get a new rotation, which means we get to do something different.

“Right now, we’re working in teams. There’s us and the head physician, who helps us figure out how we want to care for the patients. We’re constantly learning. We’re getting the experience we need to help us later on down the line.”

Where does Gaddis see herself in five years? She smiles.

“I’m looking to go into general pediatrics,” she answers. “Maybe I’ll take care of kids as an outpatient pediatrician. Also, while growing up I’ve seen and experienced all kinds of injuries. So I’m also interested in sports medicine. I might want to focus on treating sports injuries.”

No matter what the future holds for Gaddis, she will always cherish the time she had as a Rainbow Wahine.

“Being a UH student-athlete made me be appreciative of every opportunity I’ve had,” says Gaddis. “Being able to appreciate every moment helps me today. Things might get really stressful, but I’m constantly thinking about how lucky I am to be doing what I do, to be in this moment, to be with my patients and their families. I learned to persevere and not give up when times get hard.”

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