An Unbreakable Mother-Daughter Bond
When Oregon soccer suits up for its annual "Stomp Out Cancer" game against USC at Papé Field on Thursday, freshman Alice Barbieri will be thinking of her mother, Arianna Caliari.
Two years ago, Alice (pronounced uh-LEE-chay) returned home from soccer practice in her hometown of San Jose, Calif., only to hear her mom deliver shocking news: She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer.
A talented midfielder, Barbieri was smack in the middle of a fall "tour" of official recruiting visits. Her next stop? The University of Oregon.
Rescheduling the trip would have been understandable, given the circumstances. But Arianna was adamant about getting on the plane.
"(My mom) was like, 'We're going. We're still going,' " Alice recalled. "And I was like, 'Yeah, I guess we're going.' "
Less than 24 hours later, mother and daughter were in Eugene.
Meeting the team and exploring Oregon's state-of-the-art athletic facilities were a welcome distraction. But Alice was still reeling from the news. Typically, recruits spend a night or two with a host while on official visits; Barbieri couldn't stand the thought of being away from her mom.
By the time the family returned home to San Jose, Alice had canceled her remaining recruiting trips. She was ready to commit to the Ducks.
"My mom had a smile on her face the whole time," Alice said. "Honestly, I think I probably would have come here either way. But just seeing how happy it made her and how caring the coaching staff were, that kind of settled it for me."
Though Alice had explained the situation to the Oregon coaching staff, her future teammates had no idea what she was going through during her visit.
"It shows how strong she is," current UO super senior Chardonnay Curran said. "She's a great kid. She has a bright future and she is huge for this program."
Current Oregon head coach Graeme Abel had not yet joined the Ducks when Alice was recruited. But she has quickly become an important contributor off the bench for Abel's team, which is 8-1-4 overall and 3-1-1 in Pac-12 play entering Thursday's match with the fifth-ranked Women of Troy.
"(Alice) has settled in fantastically well," Abel said. "From a soccer standpoint, she played 110 minutes versus UCLA" — a scoreless draw with the then-No. 3 Bruins on Sept. 24 in Los Angeles — "had a really, really, really big game for us. We're super excited to have Alice as part of our future and can't wait to continue to watch her grow."
Once Alice's college decision had been made, the Leigh High School junior took on a caregiver role. The day Arianna had surgery, her teenage daughter stayed up all night taking care of her. Arianna was clearly in a lot of pain, and Alice told her father and younger brother, Federico, she wanted to be the one by her mother's side.
"I had a game the next day," Alice said. "I barely slept that night. And then I literally broke down on the field — because it just happened to be the breast cancer awareness game."
It was also the first time Alice looked up into the stands and only saw her dad.
Thankfully, Arianna is now in remission. She and Alice's father, Alessandro Barbieri, regularly make the 10-hour drive from San Jose to Papé Field.
"I'm excited that (Alice's) family is involved with all this, you know, family get to watch her play," Abel said. "More importantly, her mom gets to watch her play."
Arianna is an avid runner and enjoys going on mother-daughter hiking adventures.
"My mom is the strongest person I know," Alice said. "She's hilarious. I mean, she's the most loving person you'll ever meet — and towards anyone. I'm just so lucky to have her."
After driving her mom to and from physiotherapy for a year and a half, Alice now wants to become a physiotherapist herself. With everything the family has been through, she has also become a big supporter of cancer awareness events.
Her message to anyone who has a loved one impacted by cancer?
"It's super important to stay positive for them," Alice said, "because it makes a huge difference in the whole situation."
Ahead of Thursday's match against USC, the Ducks will wear special cancer awareness shirts during pregame warmups. Abel said the coaching staff also intends to use the event as an opportunity for the team to discuss the bigger picture.
"Cancer in general is just a horrific disease," he said. "The game is a chance for us to celebrate, in a way, everyone who's gone through and has been able to come out on the other side of it. And then obviously to make people aware of, you know, funds need raising to continue to battle all types of cancer."
As part of the annual "Stomp Out Cancer" tradition, fans can write special messages on pink ribbons to be displayed in the concourse.
Unfortunately, it's the first Ducks home game Arianna and Alessandro cannot attend this season. With that in mind, Alice wanted to send a special message to her mother.
"My mom and I are best friends," Alice said. "I dedicate everything to her and, like, it's cheesy to say, but everything I do is for her, whether that's on field or off the field. I want her to know that from the bottom of my heart."