Wiedmer: UTC volleyball’s Van Horns start a life of Mother’s Day
For one thing, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
When William “Bronko” Van Horn made his presence known to the world on March 15 – weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces and standing 21 inches tall – his mother Juliana and father Darin were already midway through the season coaching the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Beach Volleyball Team.
Because Darin is the head coach and Juliana the operations manager for the entire program, indoor and beach volleyball had occupied their lives long before Bronko arrived. And as she tried to get back on the sidelines after Bronko was born, the new mother’s usual fears and doubts arose within her.
“Was I crazy doing that?” she would wonder. “Am I at all prepared for this?”
On their son’s 10th day on earth, she got her answer. At least in his world – one piloted by UTC volleyball; both the athletes who play there and the parents who support him – she would have a strong and loving village to help the couple raise their first child.
The Mocs facing a home doubleheader on March 25 against Morehead State and UT Martin, Juliana and Darin decided to take Bronko to the games.
“Bringing him in in the middle of the beach volleyball season was definitely a challenge,” she said. “But the support from the Chattanooga volleyball community has been incredible. Our players’ parents have been so supportive. The first day I came back they fed him and held him so that I could train him. They volunteered to watch over him like that meant everything.”
A word on the name. In the fall, during football season, a documentary about Chicago Bears great Bronko Nagurski aired on television one afternoon. Darin was immediately drawn to the name. He talked about it with Juliana and it was quickly adopted.
“I like Rob Gronkowski too,” Darin said of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end. “…I want to call him Bronk someday.”
Every birth is precious, fun and emotional. At least it should be. And especially on Mother’s Day, when people around the world recognize the woman who gave them life, raised them and nurtured them, in most cases all three.
For Juliana, who will celebrate her first Mother’s Day by joining Darin and Bronko on Sunday in Orange Beach, Alabama, at the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship Tournament, motherhood so far has been everything she hoped for. and more.
“The greatest joy, the greatest blessing,” she said on Saturday morning. “I’m so in love with him. So honored to be his mother.”
And never more so than when he gets up for the first time each day around 5 a.m. for his breakfast.
“He’ll be up for a few hours,” Juliana said. “He’s smiling. He’s cooing. Just watch him, watch him watch his world. He’ll tug on Darin’s beard. Absolutely precious. Hands down my favorite moment each day.”
Anyone lucky enough to be a parent has been there. The cooing. The smiles. Eyes twinkling as they begin to take in the world around them, so many of them are serenaded, as Bronk was, by the music of Baby Einstein, or perhaps the favorite tunes of a relative.
“I like to play some of my favorite Christian songs from my childhood,” Juliana said. “Darin likes alternative rock.”
His favorite alternative rock band?
“Reel Big Fish,” he said.
And like any parent who loves sports and hopes their child will grow into a special athlete, even if he’s not yet 8 weeks old, Juliana said Darin has a plan to turn Bronko into a really big fish in the sport of volleyball.
“He’s already trying to make him a southpaw,” she explained, “because he thinks that would give him a big advantage.”
As they have for the past two years due to the coronavirus, Darin and Juliana will FaceTime their own mothers on Sunday. Bronko is sure to be a star of the show. Then, after the NCAA championship game ends in Orange Beach, they’ll head home, Juliana’s first Mother’s Day on the books.
On Saturday, Darin was still keeping his wife’s gifts a secret. But it’s no secret how he feels about her as they become parents.
“She’s so strong,” he said. “She’s still so determined to help others. She never complains. She’s a rock star. I tell people that all the time.”
And there’s no better day to tell the mom in your life that same feeling than Mother’s Day, when they all deserve to be recognized as one real big fish in your family’s pond at once. and in the seven seas of the world.