Hilary Vo; Guest Writer; vohn@plu.edu

Pacific Lutheran University junior Kiana Calles has mastered the art of balancing college volleyball and pursuing a major in kinesiology. She also balances raising her three-year old daughter Ellie as a single mother.

Calles had her daughter at the beginning of her senior year of high school, but with her family’s support she fought against being a dropout statistic.

The day after she told her parents the news, her dad was focused on making sure she could still graduate on time and succeed despite the circumstances. Success for Calles meant summer school, a semester of online classes, a final high school semester in person and graduating with the rest of her class at Anacortes High School before attending Skagit Valley Community College.

Calles began playing volleyball competitively at the age of 10. It runs in the family: her parents met through volleyball, her dad played in the military and he was her coach for several years. Her father has supported her all the way through her hardships.

“He’s coached me my whole life and, being the coach’s daughter, he’s always had higher expectations for me, and that made me mentally tougher in all aspects, in life and in volleyball,” Calles said. “He’s the most level-headed person I’ve met. I know if I ask him advice, he’ll give me true and rational advice.”

Her father was the coach at Skagit Valley, which was close enough for her to figure out how to take care of her daughter, take classes and play volleyball simultaneously. Ellie was at all her mother’s games.

However, after her last match at Skagit, she thought she might take time off from volleyball to focus on being a mother and continuing her education. Then she visited PLU.

The moment Calles stepped on campus, she told her mother, “I really want to go here. I really want to make this work.”
Since coming to PLU, her family, her teammates, head coach Kevin Aoki and the PLU community have made the transition from being far away from her daughter much easier.

“I already knew [teammates] Julia and Rochelle from playing volleyball, they already knew I had a daughter and they’ve always been extremely supportive,” Calles mentioned. “Even now with our new teammates, they get really excited to see Ellie at games.”

And through the transition, Calles makes sure she doesn’t lose that connection with her Ellie.

kiana1Anacortes is between two and three hours away from PLU so Calles does her best to FaceTime at least a few times a day. In the offseason, Calles will drive to Anacortes on the weekends to work and spend time with her. During season, Ellie can be seen in the stands along with Calles’ parents.

“Ellie is a very bright girl; she’s older than what she is and a little too smart for her own good, so she understands that Mommy has to go to school,” Calles revealed. “It’s always my favorite thing to see her in the crowd, like ‘Go mom!’ and after the game she’s like, ‘Good job, mom!’”

With the help of her family, teammates and coaches, she has thrived at PLU. “I told [Coach Aoki] from the beginning before I committed to PLU that I had a daughter. He already knew and he was really open to saying, ‘If you ever need to bring your kid to practice, you can.’ That’s what sold me, not a lot of college coaches would be like, you can bring your kid to practice.”

Coach Aoki and the team still stand by her efforts as a mother and a volleyball player because they all know that it’s not easy balancing two jobs.

“Anytime you can have a person that, obviously she has a three-year-old daughter, and is willing to sacrifice a lot, being away from her, going to school and playing volleyball, that’s more power to her,” Coach Aoki said of Calles. “She’s a great parent and just a great person for us to have. She’s very mature so I hope she can be a role model for the rest of our kids.”

Though everyone around her at PLU provide support for her situation, she wouldn’t be where she is today without her family. They are her true support system. Back in Anacortes, her grandmother primarily watches Ellie, and her parents when they don’t have to work. Part of the reason is because Ellie’s father is no longer in the picture.

The split stemmed from a difference in views on what the roles in the relationship should be.

“I don’t think he ever really supported me in being independent, on my own, but that’s just who I am. I’m extremely independent.”

And since then, she’s made it work. The community is what she loves most about PLU, especially how it is family-oriented, similar to her community back in Anacortes. It is a home away from home for Calles.

Ellie, who is the center of Calles’ life, is beginning to understand what her mother does. Calles is pursuing her academic and athletic dreams while taking care of her in the process.

“She’s almost three, so I enrolled her into a pre-preschool and every day before she goes, she says: ‘I’m going to school, like mom.” ◼︎

Share your thoughts