Helping others and serving Christ is not just something former Liberty field hockey student-athlete Serena Barr does. It is at the fabric of who she is.
This was evident on Oct. 22, as Barr was recognized as a Top 9 Honoree at the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year Awards Dinner in Indianapolis. She flew in with her family from Northern Ireland to attend the weekend-long event, in which the Top 30 Honorees for the prestigious award were also in attendance and recognized for their achievements.
After the Top 30 were honored and following dinner, the NCAA played a video of each of the nine finalists, and each finalist appeared on stage to answer one question from ESPN's Jessica Mendoza, the host for the evening. Barr, whose video played second, shared with Mendoza and the audience about her life's passion and purpose.
"Going to Uganda at such a young age, I saw what life was like for the majority of the world. I really wanted to educate myself and equip myself to be able to give children the opportunity to play a sport, to get an education, to get past the first five years of life without dying because of malnutrition," Barr stated. "So that is what really drives me."
Barr received a bachelor's degree in public health at Liberty, earning a perfect 4.0 GPA in the process while playing for the Liberty field hockey program for four years (2013-16). She graduated from Liberty in May and is currently pursuing her master's degree in dietetics at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. With her education, she plans to help people both locally and globally.
Barr and her family, with whom she is very close, have spent significant time in Uganda serving through Charlene's Project. The organization, founded by her late sister, Charlene, seeks to relieve poverty, hardship and distress while also providing for the advancement of education for children, young people and beyond. The book Chosen: The Story of Charlene Barr, authored by Serena's brother David Barr, shares the vision Charlene had for the children of Uganda.
The Barr family is living that vision out, making trips to Uganda to aid in the project. Today, the project sponsors over 100 children, supports over 20 teachers and has built two schools and two wells.
The journey for Barr and her twin sister Bethany began when her older sister, Natalie, began playing field hockey for the Lady Flames and former head coach Jodi Murphy in 2012. Murphy and the Barrs had a mutual friend, Joshua Opolut, Executive Director and Founder of Youth Sport Uganda.
Serena Barr played for Liberty from 2013-15 with both Bethany and Natalie, and in 2016, Natalie coached Serena and Bethany during their last season at Liberty. Both Bethany and Natalie shared in Serena's experience at the NCAA Woman of the Year Awards Dinner, while her parents Dickie and Janice, oldest sister Rebecca, grandfather Jim and aunt Lorraine also attended the event.
The Barr family often traveled from Lurgan, Northern Ireland to the United States to attend Liberty field hockey games throughout the course of her four years in a Liberty uniform.
"Where I am today is massively because of them," Barr said. "Anything I've achieved is their achievement as well. We are so close and celebrate each other's accomplishments."
Reflecting back on her time at Liberty, Barr is grateful for the support she received, along with the holistic educational experience.
"It's because of them that I'm here, and they gave me the opportunity to play at a collegiate level. They made it possible for me to play, study hard and be able to be involved in the community," Barr stated. "It's definitely something that has to come back to Liberty, and it's on their shoulders why I'm here," she said.
Barr became the first Liberty student-athlete in athletics department history to make the Top 30 for NCAA Woman of the Year. A two-time NorPac Champion, Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) All-American honoree and College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-America® selection are just a few of Barr's long list of accomplishments.
She says her top field hockey memory as a Lady Flame was defeating No. 10 Stanford in the 2013 NorPac Championship game to claim an NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship berth in just the program's third year of existence.
Barr cherished the relationships she built with her Liberty field hockey teammates, as well as with those on campus and in the Lynchburg community and surrounding area. She developed friendships with people who built her up spiritually and poured into her.
She also felt her experience at Liberty widened her perspective and allowed her to see how sports are a universal language and a platform to reach people.
Lizzy Crist of Wash. U in St. Louis received the NCAA Woman of the Year award.
"I'm so thankful for the opportunity to have been here and met some amazing people who are doing amazing things. It was an honor to be among some of those girls and to enjoy that celebration," Barr stated.
Barr's legacy she leaves at Liberty and what she will do in the world moving forward is not about her accomplishments.
"I hope I made a lasting impression on the lives of others by putting others' needs above my own and utilizing the gifts and talents to make a difference in the lives of others."