Las Positas diver learns to be a mother as a student and a record-breaking athlete.
Carleen Surrena @Surrena_c
In 2016 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that out of about 12 million single parent families, single mothers headed more than 80 percent of them. In 2013 15 percent of the 1.6 million children born out of wedlock in the U.S. were to teenagers under age 20.
Valentina Barbalinardo joined those statistics when she had her son Michael Lorenzo at the age of 19. She had to learn how to realign her life to fit a baby into her school routine, work, diving practice and swim meets.
Before the birth of her son, Barbalinardo had dreams of her own. She was dedicated to gymnastics. It was her first love, and it contributed to her athletic physique as she developed into a young woman. Barbalinardo always envisioned herself competing at a high level as a gymnast but fate had different plans.
Due to an injury her sophomore year in high school while practicing on the uneven bars and landing on her head, Barbalinardo was no longer able to compete in gymnastics. In her quest to find another sport, diving provided the physical outlet that she was seeking.
“I like to incorporate my athletic ability and I wanted to continue it in a way I would enjoy trying something new,” she said.
It paid off. In her first year on the Las Positas swim and dive team Barbalinardo was named Las Positas College female athlete of the year. She was the Coast Conference champion in 3-meter diving and finished second at the State Championships. She holds the school record in the 1-meter and 3-meter events.
Preparing to compete in her second year for the dive team, Barbalinardo found out she was pregnant. It was unplanned and a shock to her family. Barbalinardo’s little sister Mirabella took it the hardest, and did not talk to her for four months.
“It was a hard time for me,” she said. “Feeling let down by someone who I had poured so much of my heart into was tough. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what my heart and my head was feeling because nobody understood the pain I felt.”
The sisters both acknowledge the time they did not talk was hard for them.
“That’s my home girl, my best friend, my little sister,” Barbalinardo said. “ The one person I wanted to share my feelings with I couldn’t because she didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Mirabella felt the same.
“I missed my best friend. I missed my sister, I missed late nights we’d spend laughing or talking in bed, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my self pride for her at the time.”
When the baby was born her heart was changed.
“I saw the beauty that had entered the world and I saw the beauty of my sister becoming a mother.”
Once the baby was born Barbalinardo made the choice to move to southern California. There she would begin life with the father of her child and attempt to make a family. “When I moved down to southern California to move in with his dad, oh my gosh, I realized this is what parenting is,” Barbalinardo said, “I had to save my money, I have to somehow make money. Financially, spiritually, mentally, it consumes you.”
Barbalinardo tried for six months to make the best of the circumstances she had put herself in, but she continued to feel isolated and out of touch from normal every day life.
She tried working through those issues by seeking counseling, joining a Bible study class and making new friends who she could express her frustrations to.
It was not going the way she had planned and after much debate Barbalinardo decided to make the move back home to be with family and friends. She enrolled herself back in school and on to the swim and dive team.
“She’s hungry and doesn’t like being behind,” Las Positas dive coach Monte Young said. “She’s a stud woman.”
Her return was well received and her son is a staple at practice. Assistant swim and dive coach Loren Pearson laughs at the mention of Barbalinardo and her son.
“Valentina will be practicing diving and Monte will help supervise or Craighead (head swim and dive coach) or myself will pick up the baby. It’s a community and a very strong bond we have,” she said.
Barbalinardo has started where she left off setting records and earning a spot in the state championships May 4-6 in Los Angeles.
She now juggles parenthood, school, work and diving. It is stressful for her at times as she also tries to maintain a long distance relationship with her sons father.
“I have a lot of anger built up in me,” she said. “I’ve been trying to better myself about the way I speak to people and the way I act towards them.“
If Barbalinardo is having a bad day she wishes she could go to the pool and dive. It’s a healthy outlet for her.
As she re-acclimates herself to diving and learns to navigate her new schedule, Barbalinardo remains positive and loves her son.
One of the best pieces of advice Barbalinardo got was from her pastor, one of the first people she told she was pregnant, who reminded her that, “You don’t have to set your goals aside just because you have a baby.”