It’s Never Too Late: Vikings’ Iwami Rediscovers Love For Art
Dani Iwami played and started in 14 games in 2019-20, averaging 7.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting .360 from the field and .352 from beyond the arc.
Dani Iwami played and started in 14 games in 2019-20, averaging 7.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting .360 from the field and .352 from beyond the arc.
Iwami has found the beauty in nature by putting plants in her pots.
Iwami has found the beauty in nature by putting plants in her pots.

Monday, November 30, 2020
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Dani Iwami is a vocal and energizing presence on the Western Washington University women’s basketball team. Whether she is on or off the court, her energy is contagious and the team feeds off of it.

Her hobbies, however, require a much different mindset.

A redshirt senior guard from Seal Beach, California, Iwami joined the Vikings as a sophomore in 2017-18 after a year at Hawai'i Pacific University. She went on to become the GNAC Newcomer of the Year after averaging 9.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and four assists per game while shooting .336 from the field and .347 from three-point range.

Her next two seasons were unfortunately cut short due to injuries.

Iwami played in eight games in 2018-19 before her season came to an abrupt end after she fractured a metatarsal in her left foot. But it was nothing compared to her most recent injury.

As a redshirt junior in 2019-20, she opened the season averaging 15 points at the West Region Crossover Classic in Arcata, California, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. But a torn left ACL that she suffered two months later in a conference matchup against Seattle Pacific on January 11 in Bellingham would sideline her for the remainder of yet another season.

“I’m really lucky to have a strong support system,” Iwami said. “But, at the same time, it has required a lot of self-discipline to choose to do my exercises, even on the days that I don’t feel like it.”

Now nine months past surgery, Iwami is back on the court with the Vikings. She reflects on all of the small victories that have brought her back to this point in her career and reminds herself to be patient with the recovery process.

“It feels so good to be back on the floor with my teammates,” she said. “There’s nothing that compares to the intensity and energy of practice. But there have been many days where I get frustrated because my body isn’t moving the way it used to. Working through those emotions is a big part of the healing process that is often overlooked.”

Riding a rollercoaster of emotions, Iwami needed something that would slow her life down and allow her to take the time to stop and appreciate the simple things. So she turned to art.

Iwami took a ceramics class in high school and fell in love with working with clay. But it wasn’t until late this summer that she started to take pottery more seriously. Since this is her fifth year of college, she had extra space in what has usually been a jam-packed schedule in previous years.

Along with basketball, school and rehab, she makes as much time as possible to go to the ceramics studio on campus, even if it means waking up early in the morning to finish her homework. Luckily, the studio is right across from Western Washington’s Carver Gymnasium. She’ll often go straight to the studio after practices or weight training sessions to throw pottery and will sometimes stay as late as midnight.

“I would love to do ceramics for the rest of my life, whether it’s a hobby or a career,” she said. “It has benefitted my mental health and time management skills and offered me an outlet outside of basketball and school, which is difficult to find as a student-athlete.”

Iwami primarily throws clay on a pottery wheel but has also dabbled in other ceramics techniques like Mishima and sgraffito. When she is on the wheel, she zones into a sort of concentration that is completely different from what she experiences on the hardwood.

Clay requires her full attention. Every gentle motion slowly eases a curve into place. Every move has to be planned beforehand. Whether she’s throwing, trimming or glazing the clay, everything she does needs to be intentional.

“Clay is organic and messy,” she said. “There are no rules but it simultaneously requires so much structure and discipline. It’s a necessary paradox. The lessons you learn while working with clay can be applied to every aspect of your life and, most importantly, how you choose to live your life.”

Working with clay may not physically heal Iwami’s body, but it has helped her to maintain a healthy attitude during what has been a challenging year for her.

When she’s on the wheel, her worries go away. She doesn’t have to think about school. She doesn’t have to think about basketball. All she needs to do is be present and form a bond with the clay that sits in front of her.

“I think that’s the greatest lesson that clay will offer you,” she said. “Slow down and be present in whatever you are doing. Life can be so overwhelming. Indulging in the moment does a lot of good for the mind and body.”

Ceramics isn’t the only art form that Iwami has been practicing lately. She also makes macramé plant hangers and utilizes her passion for drawing to work on digital art projects. Updates on her projects can be found on her art Instagram account, @DaniKawaiiStudios, which has increased its following over the last several weeks.

“Sharing my work on social media has helped me so much. It feels really good to create things that people enjoy and I think that is the whole point of art,” she said.

At first, Iwami was terrified to put her art out there because she has always identified as an athlete. Being a basketball player is something that she’s good at. It’s something that everyone on the Western Washington campus knows her as. It’s safe. She has since learned to branch out and be open to the endless possibilities that life has to offer.

She is proud of her art. And she is proud of where she is at in her life as a student-athlete. What started as something to just pass the time has developed into a rediscovered love for art.

“I’m really enjoying this chapter of my life and I want it to resonate with people that it’s never too late to start something new. You just have to go for it,” she said.