Oct. 17, 2013
Other Pete LaFleur Features For 2013-14
By Pete LaFleur (’90)
Dougie Barnard’s family often is perplexed.
They know that the current Notre Dame junior, a member of the Irish men’s tennis team, grew up in the same household as they did, sharing the same living space as the other members of the family, parents Tom and Rene, plus daughters Anna, Carly and Eva.
They all ate the same food, drank the same water, had common interests and followed the same faith, as the entire family converted to Catholicism back in 1998.
But something simply doesn’t add up.
The Barnard’s middle child, 21-year-old Dougie, resides in a class all his own. Talk about breaking the mold – the family is not exactly certain where that template, now symbolically shattered in a million pieces, even originated.
“My parents are both amazing people, but it really is hard to pinpoint where Dougie got his personality,” says older sister Anna, currently studying in South Bend at the nearby IU School of Medicine.
“He is definitely one of a kind, and there are so many times when my parents and I have looked at each other and asked: Where did he come from?”
Dougie’s mother Rene (pronounced reen-ie, a shortened form of Maureen) often utters a classic phrase that summarizes her son’s meticulously planned daily schedule, saying, “No one can pack a day like Dougie.” Upon closer inspection, it’s also apparent that no one can pack a network of acquaintances quite like Dougie Barnard.
He is that rare breed who religiously (no, that’s not too strong of a word, more on that later) seeks out new friendships and connections, while also striving to continually grow existing relationships. It’s highly likely that the word “stranger” is not part of his vocabulary, possibly replaced by something more appropriate, such as “friend-in-waiting?”
What makes this wide net of associates even more noteworthy is their familiar refrains. They all have classic Dougie Barnard stories, and each person can tell multiple tales. There are plenty of variations on a theme, but rarely the same story twice.
That’s what happens when a truly unique and genuine spirit comes across your path. There are initial stages of amazement – thoughts such as “is this guy for real?” or “he’s too good to be true” – that inevitably are followed by testimonial statements, readily provided as a form of celebration for such a one-of-a-kind character.
Barnard’s story is one that extends well beyond the Notre Dame campus – we’re talking nearly 8,000 miles (one-third the Earth’s circumference) past the glow of the Golden Dome, in assorted African cities and villages such as Nairobi, Kenya, and Kampala, Uganda. His close-knit family connections likewise extend beyond the normal blood relatives, reaching out to foster siblings and adopted sister Eva, whom the family first met when she was an infant in Kenya.
Dougie’s Africa tale – which now has included five different trips to the continent – is a story unto itself. So is the Barnard family’s foster service and adoptive saga, which includes maintaining a wonderful “co-parenting” role with one of their former foster sons. Even the elements of Dougie Barnard’s deep-rooted faith provide a compelling account.
All of these story angles, when combined with that refreshingly unique, often hard-to-believe personality, combine to form a deeply interesting narrative for a 21-year-old with plenty left to live.
For those subscribers to the concept of nominative determinism – the belief that a person’s name has a direct correlation to one’s personality – you need to look no further than this individual. He definitely is a Dougie. Not a Doug, and certainly not a Douglas (although that’s what it formally says on his birth certificate).
Peeling back elements of Dougie Barnard’s personality and life story effectively reveals a theme of themes.
Such predominant themes in the “Dialogues about Dougie” include the following:
– The aforementioned magnetic personality, one which takes things a step further by seeking our new friendships to ensnare with that inescapable pull.
– Statements uttered about him that are confidently, unwaveringly put forward as absolute facts. For example, his appreciative mother Rene “cannot remember one time that I have ever had to even raise my voice at him” and she “has never heard him say a negative comment about anybody.” Or this from Barnard’s tennis teammate Michael Fredericka, who overheard a fellow Notre Dame student proclaim: “I don’t think I have ever seen a person so happy about…. well just life in general” (of course, in reference to Barnard).
– A steadfast devotion to the sacramental nature of his Catholic faith, with countless examples of going to extremes in order to attend Mass, no matter how early the hour or how tricky the scheduling conflicts.
Barnard’s story is one that could feature several starting points, as his family’s own narrative has included multiple life-altering events.
Fostering a New Family Direction
One might assume that the “demarcation point” for their Barnard family’s evolution is 2006 – specifically, “Before Africa” and “After Africa.” In fact, the major shift came six years earlier, when Tom and Rene committed to becoming foster parents.
“Tom and I were so drawn to foster care and was something that came very natural to us. So, in 2000, we decided that we really should share our greatest blessing – which was our family – with a child who was in a crisis situation,” explains Rene, who left her legal career behind to become a foster mom.
“Becoming a foster family took our family in a different direction. Prior to that, we both were working and were too busy to serve. Tom and I came from loving families that embraced children, so we knew this would be a special experience for us and our own kids.”
Dougie was only a first-grader when the Barnards first embarked on foster care, but his reaction to the concept was unlike what you would expect from a typical six-year-old. Most children his age would resent the inevitable further loss of attention that would occur with an infant entering the household.
But, as his parents repeatedly point out, Dougie never was an ordinary child (always in a good way, of course).
“When our parents told us we were going to start taking in foster babies, I remember having an overwhelming sense of excitement,” recalls Dougie. “I was really looking forward to our family getting a new child in our house.”
Again, not necessarily your typical reaction from a first-grade boy. But there’s more …
“I was with my mom when she got the call from the social worker that they had found a foster child for placement in our family,” continues Dougie. “I vividly remember seeing my mom just struck with emotion as she heard the news, almost as if we were welcoming a new baby into our family on a full-time basis.
“I was more moved by my mom’s reaction than my own feelings. Her joy and emotion, even tears in her eyes, it was the start of a wonderful, life-changing experience for all of us.”
The Barnard’s first foster child was a six-week-old boy who ultimately lived with the family for six months during 2001, and later for a short time in (2002). That foster-care period helped ensure health and safety during those early months, for a baby who had been taken out of an early-childhood crisis situation. Over the years, the Barnards have been able to keep in touch with that first foster baby, seeing him thrive under the care of loving family members in a happy household.
“Dougie more than anyone embraced foster care right from the start,” recalls proud mom Rene. “Giving to others always came very naturally to Dougie and he loved having these other children be part of our family.”
“The foster experience had a profound effect on Dougie. He learned that you can love a child who will not be staying in your family, and he also learned that love heals. Getting to know the birth parents and learning about the many challenges they faced had an impact on us all.”
A Fixture in the Family
The Barnard’s second foster child, six-week-old Izak, essentially became a member of their family, initially living with them for a year beginning in 2002. Izak’s father was able to regain custody in 2003, but that’s not where the story ends. In many ways, it’s when this special story actually begins.
Izak’s father, an African immigrant, had certain time limitations due to his work schedule, so an arrangement was put in place. Izak effectively remained part of the Barnard family and would stay at their house on a daily basis. Izak’s father ultimately remarried and now has other children as part of his own expanded family.
“Our family worked with Izak’s father and step-mother to make sure he had a stable home,” explains Rene. “Izak’s parents have allowed us to co-parent him and we have learned so much from them – they are the happiest family we know.”
Over the years, Dougie Barnard has maintained his own unique, close bond with Izak and his family, holding deep “respect for how hard Izak’s father works to support the family.”
Anna and Dougie Barnard typically would share their expanding family story with classmates and teachers, often through writing stories and drawing pictures in their grade-school classes.
“Our kids learned a great lesson, because they thought of themselves as part of a family that looks for opportunities to help others in need,” notes Tom Barnard.
Gifts That Outweigh Loss
Rene Barnard always had been enamored with foster care, an appreciation that only grew after serving several years as a foster mom.
“Unfortunately, for many people the term foster care is an ugly word – but in reality, it’s a beautiful thing when you can partner with families in need,” says Isak’s foster mom.
“There are so many children that need help and they may be in ugly circumstances, but loving foster families can make that experience a beautiful thing. If you are lucky like we are to have a big family, we have plenty of love – so we have it to give.”
The Barnard’s third foster child, six-week-old LaToya, ultimately lived with the family for nine months.
“LaToya was a very pleasant, happy baby who we became attached to very quickly,” says Dougie, a fourth-grader at the time. “All aspects of our life seemed to include LaToya and it was a totally natural feeling that she was a full part of our family.”
As their family’s bond with LaToya grew deeper, Tom and Rene Barnard even began to consider formal adoption proceedings. But then, one day in 2004, their life was thrown for a loop.
“LaToya’s father had gained custody, flew out from Hollywood, pulled up in a limo and took her back to Los Angeles,” recalls Dougie, matter-of-factly. “It was a painful separation, especially for my parents, and we never heard from LaToya or her father again. We have no idea how she has grown up, that was hard on everyone.”
Despite the painful departure of the family’s third foster child, Rene Barnard says she would do it all over again.
“The gift you receive from being a foster family is so much more important than the loss,” says LaToya’s former foster mom. “There is something uniquely gratifying in loving someone who is not in your immediate family.”
Four years after witnessing his mother’s tremendous joy from that first foster-baby call, Dougie had to share his parents’ anguish following the abrupt departure of their third foster child.
The Barnard family didn’t know it at the time, but their lives were about to undergo a transformative experience, within a few short months.
“What was amazing with that door closing was that another one opened,” says the Barnard son. “Our family’s loss of LaToya essentially led to my parent’s initial trip to Africa, and all the rest that it has brought over the past 10 years.”
A Whole New World
At the time LaToya left their family in 2004, the Barnards were tired and mentally drained, notes Renee.
“Foster care is difficult, because you love a child with everything you have and then the child leaves and you may never see them again. We felt like LaToya was ours.”
Rene Barnard’s cousin, Dr. Jane Stephens, was planning a two-week trip to Kenya in July of 2004 and she floated the idea that some of the Barnard family should join in on the journey
Stephens and her husband Chad had founded the Amani Children’s Foundation earlier in 2004. The foundation was created to help combat the effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa that had led to the collapse of “traditionally close-knit, extended family networks.” Africa’s estimated 13 million orphans at the time included a high number of vulnerable infants.
Jane and Chad Stephens – who had adopted two Kenyan children – would be visiting orphanages operated by the New Life Home Trust of Nairobi, Kenya. Before departing, they gained three additions to the travel party: Tom and Rene Barnard, along with Anna, then 13.
“The timing for that visit to Africa worked well for our family and we essentially viewed it as a fact-finding trip,” says Rene. “We didn’t go to Kenya thinking we would adopt, but knowing that we would probably want to.”
Anna & Eva
The decision to include Anna on that initial trip to Kenya directly connected the Barnards to their future family legacy. While visiting a small orphanage in western Kenya, Anna interacted with the two-month-old baby who later would become her adopted sister.
While Anna was bonding with the baby soon to be known as Eva, Rene already had begun thinking about adopting a baby boy.
“My mom remembers me turning to her and saying, `This is my sister,`” says Anna. “I was adamant that she was supposed to be in our family, and I had this overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to meet her that day. My parents trusted my instincts and fell in love with the baby as well – that wasn’t hard to do.”
Rene quickly developed a strong attachment with the baby. It then was only a matter of completing the adoption procedures and the Barnard family would be adding a new member.
Or so it seemed.
“The adoption process was very complicated,” explains Rene. “We thought we could return to Kenya in a few weeks and get custody of Eva, bring her to the U.S. and return again to Kenya to finalize the adoption. … Wrong.”
The Kenyan court system mandated that Tom or Rene would need to earn resident status and stay in the Nairobi area throughout the adoption process. Rene returned home with Tom and Anna but stayed for a brief time before heading back to Kenya, determined to complete the adoption.
Worth the Wait
The original estimate was that Rene Barnard would be separated from her three children for three months – but the time apart ended up being an agonizing seven months that tested each member of the close-knit family.
“Many times during those months, we did not know if the adoption would go through, and I was missing my kids so badly,” says Rene, whose own mother Carol Robinson was helping look after Anna, Dougie, Carly and Izak.
“There were times when my mom would call and she was depressed or upset with the court proceedings. There were doubts in her mind if the adoption was meant to be,” recalls Dougie, a sixth-grader at the time.
“There was a tremendous sense of loss from missing my mom and it got to the point that when I thought of her I could not picture in my mind what she looked like. That was a very disturbing experience, and at times I did not know if she would ever return.”
Rene’s persistence and the other family members’ patience ultimately paid off. In May of 2005, Anna, Dougie and Carly’s mom finally embarked on her long-overdue return, spending nearly 17 hours in the air before touching down in her lifelong hometown of Indianapolis. Rene was not alone, as Eva – a few days past her first birthday – was about to be greeted by her new, extended family, with nearly 30 of Rene’s family members on hand.
“It was very emotional seeing my mom coming home with Eva,” says Dougie. “I view that experience as God rewarding my mom for her faithfulness. She did what she had to do and committed herself to Eva. We all joined my mom in sharing that sense of joy and accomplishment.”
Eva’s transition into the Barnard family was a smooth one.
“Welcoming a young child into our family did not seem like anything out of the ordinary,” notes Dougie. “Ever since she was a baby, Eva has been the center of attention in our house, our family’s pride and joy.”
Adds Rene: “Eva is a hoot and she runs the show. She has made all of our lives bigger, louder and brighter. Eva coming into our family introduced us to Kenya and ever since that time Africa has been part of our family dialogue. It has changed all our lives, providing a greater sense of connection. We feel like a Kenyan-American family, and that’s the gift that Eva brings to us.”
Ties That Bind
Throughout Eva’s eight years as a member of the Barnard family, she has maintained an unbreakable bond with Dougie – even as her brother has spent the past couple years away at Notre Dame.
The connection between the two siblings clearly centers around Dougie’s eternally youthful spirit. No activity of Eva’s is too silly or childlike to prevent her brother from joining in with the frivolity. Whether it is building forts out of cardboard boxes or tooling around the family property on toy motorcycles (which Dougie long ago outgrew), big brother is always there when he can be, side-by-side with the Barnard’s youngest child.
“Dougie, by his very nature, can be very childlike and relates so easily to Eva,” says Tom Barnard. “He will sit and talk or play with her, as if he was her age. He always has made her feel so special.
“With our foster kids, Dougie never thought of himself or worried about what having another child in the house would do to the dynamics of the family. It was always `How can we give this child a better day?` Dougie’s schedule was packed, but he would sit down on the floor the minute he got home, just to roll around and play with the kids.”
“Growing up as Eva’s older brother has fostered so many wonderful things in me,” adds Dougie, with no pun intended. “She has helped instill in me a sense of happiness, a sense of youth and a better sense of self-confidence.
“When talking with her and exchanging stories, I am never concerned with how I am presenting myself. She has really helped me become so much more comfortable in myself, not worrying about how others are seeing me.”
Eva’s most cherished moments with her brother remain the simple things.
“Dougie is the only person who will take me to get a snow cone – any time I want,” proclaims the spunky little sister. “The thing I like most about Dougie is that he will sit on the stairs and talk to me, even when I am supposed to be sleeping.”
Although he was not among the Barnard family’s first travel group that made that trek to Africa back in 2004, Dougie made up ground and then some, logging five different trips to Kenya/Uganda.
“Had Eva not come into our lives, I likely would not have developed my deep appreciation for eastern Africa, particularly Kenya,” says the appreciative older brother.
His Turn to Take the Big Trip
After having heard all of the 2004 Kenya stories from Anna, Dougie “wanted to see what it was all about” and tagged along on the family’s 2006 trip back to Africa. That initial experience in Kenya clearly made a profound impact on the Barnard’s middle child … and he keeps returning to Africa, now having made visits during five of the past eight summers.
“My first trip to Kenya was one of tremendous culture shock, as I had never witnessed destitute poverty,” says Barnard. “But I also received hope and the ability to love in a new way. The spirit present among the people at New Life Homes orphanages affected me deeply.
“I didn’t merely witness terrible living conditions and deep suffering, I also witnessed a response from people determined to change lives through nurturing babies with food, medicine and love.”
The summer prior to Dougie’s senior year of high school provided another chance for members of the Barnard family to return to Kenya. Rene organized that 10-day trip in 2010, with visits to orphanages in Nairobi and Nakuru. Carly made that long trek to Kenya, joining her mother and brother in the travel party (Tom and Anna had gone along with Dougie the previous year).
“Sharing that experience with my mom and Carly was special. Observing the way Carly interacted with the babies moved me, and our relationship as siblings inevitably changed for the better,” says the older brother.
“Coming home after those 10 days was even more difficult than returning from my first trip. The emotional connection I had with the babies I met weighed heavily on me. I felt a deeper desire to return and build on my existing relationships in Kenya.”
Back for More
Return he did, in fact the very next summer shortly after high school graduation. That two-week trip in 2011 actually was sponsored by Brebeuf Jesuit High School, as Barnard was able to share the Kenya experience with 10 of his classmates.
Brebeuf had partnered with a high school, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, on the outskirts of Nairobi. The Americans were able to interact with students their age and made home visits through the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program. The trip also included time staying in the western city of Eldoret, at the compound of Indiana University’s health program.
“That was a very emotional trip, as I experienced new parts of Kenya and it opened my eyes to the diversity of the country,” says Barnard. “Interacting with high school-aged children was a new and valuable experience, and the home visits provided a poignant look into Kenyan family life.”
One year after visiting Africa with high school classmates, Barnard was able to make his fourth trip to the continent with another special group: fellow Notre Dame student-athletes. That 2012 summer trip, this time to Uganda (which borders the western side of Kenya), was sponsored by Fields of Growth International, which seeks to harness the passion of athletics into positive social impact in developing countries.
“Uganda was a very different experience and so much was new to me, which was exciting,” says the young world traveler. “But there are some cultural similarities to Kenya, such as the relaxed sense of time and schedule, some of the foods and the societal values.”
Barnard and the other student-athletes spread something akin to a “gospel of sport,” through a basic curriculum spelled out in a program known as Notre Dame’s Play Like A Champion Today Sports as Ministry. The group volunteered at schools in Masaka-Kindu and Bugembe, helping instruct in the classroom and on the athletic fields.
“We wanted to show those kids that sports can help shape their future by providing opportunities and teaching important lessons about teamwork, leadership and respect for all fellow competitors,” says Barnard. “It also was important to stress that the young girls should feel just as empowered by sports as the boys.”
New Country, Same Affection
It was only two weeks in late May of 2012, but Barnard suddenly was conflicted. Did he have a new co-favorite African country?”
“I quickly discovered that I might like Uganda just as much as Kenya,” laughs the current Notre Dame junior. “I made close friends and formed connections that I would build upon the following summer.”
During the 2012 Uganda trip, Barnard developed close friendships with Notre Dame women’s tennis players JoHanna Manningham and Katherine White – who had the perfect chance to observe their new friend comfortably in his element.
“Dougie in Africa is like a whale in the ocean – it just fits,” says Manningham. “It was awesome to be in a foreign country with someone who shared my similar passion for tennis and sports development. Dougie always greeted everyone with a smile and people were attracted to his knowledge of their country and his passion for learning more about the culture.”
The term “magnetic personality” often can be an overhyped clichÃƒÆ’Â©. But that doesn’t appear to be the case when dealing with Dougie Barnard. You can speak with his parents, his siblings, his coaches, his teachers and yes, most especially, those who have been in Africa with him. They all will tell you a similar story.
“Dougie was amazing with the kids on field days and he also always had a great passion for our development programs,” recalls Manningham. “He always would stop and talk with people, just to get to know them and learn from them, and he had a knack for attracting hundreds of children piled all around him. It was awesome to see him brighten their day.”
Manningham also was quick to point out one bonus aspect of Barnard’s personality, one that can sneak up on innocent bystanders but leave them howling with glee.
“One thing that makes Dougie such an awesome person is his contagious laughter,” explains Manningham. “He could get our entire group laughing, just because he let out a small laugh.”
During one day in Uganda that was more on the mellow side, Barnard, Manningham and White set out to teach tennis at a school park. There was only one, pretty big problem: the “court” wasn’t really a court, at least not in its existing state. But it had potential.
“There was only a patch of clay, no net or lines – but we came up with a solution, of course the whole idea was spearheaded by Dougie,” explains Manningham.
“We located the net, posts and lining machine and ended up building the entire court. We even made friends at the park that wanted to play with us.”
Although boomerangs most often are traced back to Australian Aboriginal tribes, many probably would assume that they originated in Africa. In that case, consider Dougie Barnard a type of “human boomerang” who keeps coming and going across the ocean, from Indiana to Africa, and back again.
“When Dougie first went to Africa and visited the orphanage where Eva had lived, it deeply moved him,” says his proud mother Rene. “Every time he goes back to Africa, Dougie never misses any opportunity to spend time with the children there.
“Africa gets into your blood. It’s just a magical place to be, and Dougie is always trying to plan his next trip back.”
Going Solo … and Longer
Barnard had yet to travel to Africa on his own, and he had never been gone more than two weeks. That all changed in the summer of 2013, when he received a fellowship grant to conduct research for nine weeks (June 1-Aug. 3) in Uganda.
As a minor in International Development Studies (MIDS), Barnard was in need of conducting research pertinent to his intended senior thesis. His MIDS interest during the 2012-13 academic year was related to one of his core majors, theology, specifically the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) in Uganda.
During his extended stay in Uganda, Barnard developed a working knowledge of the language and a taste for the area’s typical food: steamed plantains, rice and beans. It would come as no surprise that the ambitious 20-year-old quickly had assembled a network of contacts, friends and associates, extending to four different regions in Uganda. He even was offered the chance to regularly train at a tennis club in downtown Kampala. That time spent at the red-clay courts of the Lugogo Tennis Center, surrounded by the area’s best coaches and promising young players, proved to be the symbolic icing on the cake for the two-month odyssey.
“Seeing my tennis develop while simultaneously having my faith challenged and my intellectual research goals realized gave me overwhelming joy and gratitude,” says Barnard.
“Those two months in Uganda represent the pinnacle of my Notre Dame experience – from an intellectual, spiritual, athletic and personal growth standpoint. I gained tremendous independence and made so many beautiful connections with individuals and important organizations from the region.”
One pre-graduation summer remains for Barnard and, of course, he is pursuing another trip to Africa, when he likely will conduct further research, on a topic still to be finalized, and possibly will do so in a country other than Kenya or Uganda. Barnard also could make a 2014 summer visit to Geneva, Switzerland, where he would hope to “assess current international anti-immigration policy on behalf of various human rights organizations.”
A Transformative Conversion
Tom Barnard was born in Michigan but moved at a young age with his family to Indianapolis, where his father had accepted a pastorship within a Disciples of Christ congregation. His mother also had a deep religious background and came from a family of ministers.
After graduating from Purdue and later matriculating at Indiana Law School, Barnard met his future wife, the former Maureen (Rene) Robinson, within the Indianapolis-area legal profession. Their “Lawyers in Love” storyline ultimately led to them settling in Rene’s native Indianapolis, shortly after Dougie was born, to raise their growing family while continuing their respective law practices.
Maureen Robinson was born on the family property where she, Tom and the rest of the Barnard clan now call home. The collection of six houses – constructed in a traditional “compound” formation – includes the current homesteads for various relatives while two of Rene’s siblings and their families live only a couple minutes away from the family property.
We think you get the picture: a large, extended family; reunions basically a part of daily life; and, yes, amazing games of hide-and-seek spread across the property’s 13 total acres.
Tom and Rene Barnard have made a handful of fundamental, life-altering decisions in their life. In 2000, they made the conviction to become a foster family. Then, in 2004, they took that fateful trip to Africa that ultimately led to the adopting of Eva and opened their entire family to a wide spectrum of new experiences.
But years earlier, in the late 1990s, the Barnard parents made the biggest joint decision of their married life by converting to Catholicism. Anna was eight at the time, Dougie six and Carly three, with all of the Barnard children essentially raised within the Catholic faith.
“Our property was close to a very strong Catholic elementary school, St. Luke’s, and we knew several families with children who attended the school,” explains Rene, in reference to the nearby K-8 institution.
“Tom and I really liked the concept of having the Catholic faith integrated into the school day, as part of the fabric of the student’s lives. We thought about converting for a long time and were really drawn to it. The Catholic faith was a wonderful change for our family.”
A Faithful Servant
Dougie Barnard’s deep faith developed during his formative years at St. Luke’s before continuing at Brebeuf Jesuit High School.
“St. Luke’s instilled in me the value of a sacramental life, going to Mass and confession, says Barnard. “In high school at Brebeuf, it was a turning point as I learned the importance of living out one’s faith – which of course has grown tremendously at Notre Dame.”
During his junior year of high school, Barnard pleaded with his parents – and ultimately convinced them – to let him attend a school spiritual retreat, even though it was set to end right before the state tennis championship.
“Dougie was gone at the retreat for two nights, staying up late,” recalls his still-amazed mother Rene. “He went to the retreat, came back and immediately proceeded to win the high school state singles title.
“I continually am inspired and challenged by Dougie’s faith. He drops everything to regularly attend confession and Mass.”
Fast forward to the fall of 2012, Dougie’s sophomore year. The Notre Dame tennis team had just arrived in Dublin, in advance of a special exhibition against Ireland’s Davis Cup team.
“There was an opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the morning after we arrived, but it entailed getting up at the crack of dawn and our group was already pretty jet-lagged,” says former Irish head coach Bobby Bayliss, who retired last spring. “But Dougie immediately jumped at the opportunity.”
Move ahead to the following summer, when Barnard was returning from his nine-week stay in Uganda. “Dougie got back from that trip at 4:30 in the morning, and wanted to go straight to Mass,” notes his eternally impressed mother.
Learning from the Master
As the son of two tennis players, Dougie Barnard naturally gravitated towards tennis as his primary sports passion – but he also is an accomplished golfer and billiards player, in addition to playing plenty of informal basketball and football as a youth. An avid runner, Barnard even trained hard during his days at St. Luke’s, hoping to set the school record in the mile run, an accomplishment that he ultimately achieved.
Barnard’s love for tennis dates back to the days of his first lessons as a six-year-old working with legendary teaching professional P.A. Nilhagen, who earlier had been the youth coach of Dougie’s mom Rene. Nilhagen had a strict policy against coaching children as young as six or seven, but he made an exception with Dougie, at the urging of his own wife.
“I agreed to coach Dougie and was amazed to see him take what I had instructed, go home and start hitting in their driveway right away,” says Nilhagen, who has sent several of his former men’s and women’s players on to Notre Dame, including Chris Wojtalik and Chuck Coleman (members of the historic 1992 NCAA runner-up team).
“Dougie would go home and practice, hour after hour. Most kids that age couldn’t ever remember anything I said, but Dougie was on a totally different dimension in terms of how much he cared about the sport.”
Rene’s father, also named Doug, similarly had been a tennis player and she had “always dreamed of Dougie following in my dad’s footsteps.” Under Nilhagen’s expert guidance, the Barnard son steadily progressed through the junior ranks and began beating older players fairly regularly.
“I found tennis to very challenging, technical and intriguing because of the level of mastery needed for success,” says Barnard. “That mastery is based on dissecting the game and finding little ways to improve. I’m always trying to develop a more complete game.”
Tom and Rene Barnard always have marveled at their son’s focus and temperament. “When Dougie plays, he is so even-keeled you would never know if he was winning or losing,” says Rene, a former college tennis player in her own right after having played at Butler.
“We started calling Dougie the `Great Diffuser.’ No matter how difficult his opponent, he just comes in, plays his game and moves on.”
As their son became more ingrained in youth tennis, Tom and Rene grew concerned that the sport’s time commitment might come at an expense.
“Dougie always reassured us that there were so many positives he was getting from tennis, it was worth the sacrifices he had to make,” recalls Rene. “That attitude also related to how Dougie viewed our foster children: their presence was not taking away from him, rather it added to what we had as a family.”
Barnard’s trademark style as a youth tennis player centered around being a “counterpuncher and a baseliner, more of a defensive approach.” As he neared the end of his high school career, that style had to become more “offensive, utilizing strength at the net, playing with more power and trying to finish points earlier.
“Basically, I had to start playing big-boy tennis,” he says.
Taking it to the Next Level
Barnard’s final two pre-college seasons yielded a rare double accomplishment, as he won the Indiana high school state singles title as a junior and the next year claimed the USTA Midwest Section 16-and-under singles title (covering a region of seven states), also finishing as state runner-up during that senior season.
“Dougie winning the state championship, was the happiest moment of my coaching life, because he deserved it and had worked so hard,” says Nilhagen.
“I’ve coached a lot of amazing players during my 40 years living in Indianapolis, but Dougie may be the most special individual. The way he treats his peers is incredible and they all have great respect for him. I’ve known Tom and Rene for a long time. They are quality people who raised Dougie not by fear but through their beliefs. He had a very stable upbringing, and it shows.”
Nilhagen and Bayliss had long been admirers of one another within the tennis coaching fraternity, with a mutual respect that has stretched back nearly three decades. So when Nilhagen gave Bayliss an early heads-up about Barnard being well-suited for the Notre Dame team, Dougie was on the program’s recruiting radar from the early age of 13.
During the recruiting process, Bayliss was surprisingly pleased to receive validation about the prospective player, and from a complete stranger no less.
“I was at the Winter Nationals in Phoenix and the parent of another player approached me, asking if we were recruiting Dougie Barnard to come play at Notre Dame,” recalls Bayliss.
“This woman then proceeded to tell me that Dougie was the nicest young man on the national circuit, that he would be a great teammate and a wonderful boy to coach. Getting unsolicited advice from strangers like that is very uncommon, so I knew right from the get-go that we had someone special.”
Barnard’s collegiate career essentially will be split having played two seasons with Bayliss as head coach and ultimately two under current head coach Ryan Sachire, benefitting from time spent with both.
“Coach Bayliss has had a great influence on me due to his style of teaching and strong belief in developing student-athletes who are excellent, well-rounded individuals,” says Barnard. “He has excelled at developing young men who will go on to be successful in their family lives and their work, making great contributions to society.
“Coach Sachire naturally has continued to lead the program in similar fashion. He also has been a tremendous mentor to me, as I try to balance the different areas of my life, and he has challenged my game while showing belief and support in my potential.”
Throughout the ups and down over the past few years, the Barnard family members have been strong supporters of one another. Dougie, in particular, has expressed a deep sense of gratitude towards his parents and siblings.
“Dougie is so grateful all the time, and when something really good happens, the first thing he thinks about is what he should do for somebody else,” explains Rene, who sees the common trait of strong task-based focus between her husband and son.
“I think that sense of gratitude is an important part in keeping Dougie so hopeful. He is really called to serve others. He wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and goes to bed with one.”
Dougie Barnard always looked up to his older sister and had great respect for her academic excellence and success, adding that he “hopes to have made a similar impact on Carly in recent years.
“The kindness and compassion displayed by my mom have instilled in me the desire to live a life of meaning. I have witnessed her discover purpose, simply through being mindful of how others feel.
“My dad has taught me what it means to be an authentic, loving man,” continues the thankful Barnard son. “His faithfulness to the family, care and concern for the community, both locally and with our friends in Kenya, and his humble attitude towards his accomplishments all inspire me to develop a similar quiet strength.”
Anna Barnard has gained a bonus experience while attending school in South Bend, as “being able to see Dougie in his element at Notre Dame has been amazing,” says the oldest Barnard sibling.
“Dougie has taught me to be more open and to learn how to take in more from the people around me. I’m always amazed, whether we are in an airport, at restaurants or at Mass, Dougie will introduce someone as if it is his best friend – and then I find out later that they had only just met. That’s Dougie, he is able to take lessons from all types of people.”
Carly and Dougie Barnard grew closer in 2010-11, during that one academic year together at Brebeuf Jesuit. Similar to Anna’s current perspective, the younger sister relished in the “chance to see how Dougie interacted with everyone at the school – everyone knew him and loved him.
“Dougie has always been my biggest supporter and my hero. He never lets me forget that he’ll always be on my side, and during that year we spent together in high school he truly made me want to be a better person. Observing him that year changed my own path through high school. He has that rare gift of connecting with others and sharing his spirit, it’s difficult to describe.”
A Wide-Open Future
With his graduation from Notre Dame still 17 months away, Barnard’s postgraduate options of course remain open. But it’s never too early to start exploring options, for the young man who regularly packs his days full of plans.
“I feel as if my story in Africa won’t be closed for a while, but at some point I also may look into law school or graduate school in Africana studies,” says the eventual class of 2015 graduate.
Barnard’s busy 2013 summer also included a two-week mission trip to St. Lucia, with Varsity Catholic, which is a branch of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Further service work could be in his near future, possibly with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
“I got a taste of mission work last summer in St. Lucia, and it was both frustrating and deeply satisfying,” concludes Barnard. “That experience inspired me to think about using my role as an athlete to further share the Gospel message and to be a witness to others.”
Sachire – a former All-American during his playing days with the Irish and the ND assistant coach for seven years before replacing the retiring Bayliss – knows plenty about the standard of excellence inherent in all Notre Dame student-athletes, and he places Barnard on another plane.
“Dougie’s priorities in life extend far beyond what is typically thought of in terms of being a student-athlete at Notre Dame,” says Sachire. “Dougie challenges those around him to be better people, not in what he says but in the way he conducts his own life – by simply being himself.
“It’s very common to anticipate our student-athletes doing some very special things later in life. But Dougie already has done some of those very special things, and he already has become a leader in society at such a young age. What his future holds is limitless.
Barnard’s oldest tennis coach, Nilhagen, similarly has seen traits of greatness in his special pupil over the years.
“Dougie learned very early, in tennis and in life, who he wants to be, what he wants to do and how he is going to get there,” says the longtime Indianapolis-based coach.
“He has high aspirations, who knows maybe something in politics or religion. I always used to kid around with Dougie, saying that he was going to be the next pope. But that’s a young man who will go places.”
Senator Barnard? Pope Dougie?
Guess we’ll have to wait and see … but it’s probably a good idea not to bet against him.