Basketball has always been a passion for Keila Beachem, but she had no idea just how far it would take her.

As a young woman growing up on the south side of Chicago Keila and her family faced some challenges. Fortunately, her mother recognized Keila’s talent for playing basketball and made a decision that would change her life forever.

 

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With the hope of creating a better life for her daughter, Keila’s mother sent her to live with her godmother Cynthia Cooper-Dyke in Sugar Land, Texas. Her godmother had been a professional basketball player for the Houston Comets when the team won the Women’s National Basketball Association’s first four titles. She’s also an Olympic gold medalist.

“Moving to Texas broadened my horizon and showed me a different world,” Keila says. “Going from living in a two-bedroom apartment with my mother and two siblings to living in a huge mansion with my godmother was an incredible experience. It provided me with a higher education and exposed me to a diverse environment at a young age. This was the best thing that could have happened to me!”

After graduating from high school in Texas, Keila was recruited by the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., and later transferred to California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif. It was there that she caught the eye of a recruiter from the National Women’s Basketball League (NWBL) team the Chicago Blaze.

Keila, then 22 years old, returned to Chicago to play for the Blaze in 2004. It was her first time back in Chicago since leaving at 16 years old.

“I remember being a water girl for the Houston Comets at 16 years old. I never thought six years later I would be competing against some of the most prolific players in the WNBA during my time in the NWBL,” she says.

This was the first time Keila’s family had the opportunity to see her play outside of high school. Now that Keila was back in Chicago, her family finally had the chance to see who and what she had become.

“My mother encouraged me to never settle for a job and to always pursue a career,” Keila says. “My mother’s goal was to make the best decisions for her children, and I know that seeing me play for the Chicago Blaze gave my mother the security to know that she had made the right decision by sending me to Texas.”

The Blaze folded in 2005, and that year Keila went to play for the WNBA team the New York Liberty. Due to the team’s budget restraints, she was unable to play the entire season.

Determined to succeed, Keila continued to polish her skills and was picked up by the Greek Women’s National Basketball League in late 2005. She would later play for several European teams in Poland, Spain, Turkey, and Romania.

Although Keila enjoyed a successful professional basketball career, it was not enough. She wanted more in life.

“I felt like I was limiting myself to basketball and decided that I wanted to use my education,” Keila says. “I’ve always had an interest in math and engineering and I knew that working for ComEd would be a great opportunity to explore those interests.”

In 2012, Keila joined ComEd as a customer service supervisor. She was promoted in 2014 to her current position as a construction supervisor with ComEd’s Chicago North Electric Operations.

Keila says she plans to start a non-for-profit organization to mentor young girls interested in pursuing careers in basketball. For now, she’s focusing on developing her career at ComEd and studying to complete a bachelor’s degree in business management at Loyola University in Chicago.