If you think you have a busy schedule, talk to Idaho State women’s basketball player Kaela Oakes about hers.
Not only does she have to balance her classes at the university with a demanding basketball calendar, but also spends time working clinical shifts at Portneuf Medical Center.
The junior guard is enrolled in the nursing program at ISU and is on pace to get her bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and be a registered nurse in just four years.
Considering that she and the rest of the Bengals have been in the middle of battles for the Big Sky Championship every year, it’s a major accomplishment.
“This semester and then next year is all I have left and I’ll be done,” Oakes said. “I’m planning on finishing it in four years. I’m doing well so far. Sometimes I wish I would have stretched it out over five because it’s a lot of work to be able to balance the two. But I just figured I might as well just get it done while I’m having my school paid for.”
Every Tuesday last semester and now during the current one, Oakes can be found at the hospital from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m.
“Then sometimes I go to practice after that,” she said.
Head coach Seton Sobolewsi said that it’s not uncommon to see Oakes show up at practice or film sessions still wearing her scrubs.
While Oakes, who is from Chandler, Ariz., wears a different uniform at the hospital than she does on the basketball court, she attacks her duties with the same tenacity and energy as she does her opponents during a game.
“It’s demanding because when you’re in a program like this, they expect nursing and school to be your number one priority,” she said. “Then I come to the gym and Sobo (Sobolewski) expects basketball and working out to be my number one priority. It’s difficult. But I’ve learned how to balance it.”
Oakes added that this year has been the biggest challenge yet.
“Doing clinicals in my junior year, that was kind of going to be the test, to see if I could balance it and succeed in what I’m doing,” she said. “It went well last semester, but it definitely wasn’t an easy task at all.”
“Then I’m trying to have a social life and not go crazy on top of that,” she added. “It’s hard.”
Oakes continues to perform at a high level when it’s game time. She has been a key factor as the Bengals are currently in first place in the Big Sky with a 3-0 record. That includes road wins against Montana State and Montana, something that ISU hasn’t done since 2001.
While averaging almost 12 points, 3 assists and over 32 minutes of court time per game this season, Oakes has kept her grades up and continues to succeed on an academic level. Last year she earned second team Academic All-American honors.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise as it was the scholastic opportunities at Idaho State that had Oakes interested in becoming a Bengal.
She was recruited by many schools, including closer-to-home Northern Arizona, but was informed by all of them that basketball would be her main focus, not a nursing program.
“It was hard because a lot of the coaches that I got recruited by just plain told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Oakes said. “They said I would have to get my degree in something else and then go back and do it later. Northern Arizona was one of them.”
Not ISU or Sobolewski.
“Sobo was really the only one,” Oakes said. “He looks at education as the main reason why we’re here. If you can get everything paid for while your playing basketball and not have any debt when you’re coming out of here, I think that’s the most important thing. That’s what I’m working for.”
So far, so good.
Now that she’s established a rhythm and pattern at ISU, the balancing act has become easier for Oakes to handle as she compartmentalizes every aspect of her life.
“You kind of just have to prioritize things,” she said. “It’s exhausting because at times I do have the time to do things, but physically and mentally I’m so exhausted from traveling or playing basketball or going to practice. You just have to work through it.”
“I’ve learned to like coffee,” she added with a laugh. “I haven’t liked coffee ever before, but it helps me. I stay up until two in the morning studying and then wake up and go to class and practice.”
On average, Oakes will sleep six hours a night.
She catches up when the team is traveling to and from games.
“A bunch of the girls take pictures while others are sleeping and they’re going to compile an album,” she said. “I guarantee half of them are of me. All I do is sleep on the planes.”
Sobolewski has remained true to his word that academics are the true reason for his players to be in school. The professors are doing their part as well.
“Sobo has been really understanding and he really knows this is something that I want to do,” Oakes said. “He’s been good about letting me get my hours in (at the hospital) and then letting me come here when I need to. My professors are really understanding, too. We’ve worked around it and I’ve done make up times when other people don’t really do make up times. I’m blessed to have two sides working together with me.”
When asked what she will do with all her free time after she graduates, she laughed.
“Work,” Oakes said. “I’ll have more free time probably than I’ve ever had before. But I’m looking forward to it and being able to go back and spend time with my family. It’ll be nice.”