From tragedy to triumph: Jared Barnes’ inspiring road to Team USA

Jared Barnes, senior and team manager of the Leopards men’s basketball team, is preparing for the World Games in Romania for Team USA this upcoming fall. Barnes said he found solace in mixed martial arts and basketball after his mother’s death when he was 13 years old. / photo by Jack Janes
Jared Barnes, senior and team manager of the Leopards men’s basketball team, is preparing for the World Games in Romania for Team USA this upcoming fall. Barnes said he found solace in mixed martial arts and basketball after his mother’s death when he was 13 years old. / photo by Jack Janes

Jonas Holt
Staff Writer

At 26, Jared Barnes exemplifies the resilience and determination of a true warrior. His story is one of overcoming immense adversity and relentlessly pursuing his dreams.

Born in Linda Vista, San Diego, Barnes’ early years were a tapestry of fond memories filled with basketball, Dragon Ball Z and the joy of childhood adventures. Barnes’ life took a tragic turn when he lost his mother to scleroderma at the age of 13, an event that forever altered the course of his life. 

“I moved around a lot in my early years,” Barnes said. “In Linda Vista, I lived with my whole family in a little house. One of my favorite memories is waking up to my grandma making pancakes for everyone. We’d all sit around this big table, just hanging out and being kids.”

Losing his mother was a devastating blow, but Barnes’ response to this tragedy revealed his incredible fortitude. 

“My mother was sick with scleroderma, so I had to take care of her every day, helping her with everything from washing and clothing her to cooking and cleaning,” Barnes said. “It taught me the value of love and dedication. When I love something, I give it my all.”

This commitment would become a cornerstone of Barnes’ character, especially as he navigated through his early twenties. While pursuing his education, Barnes faced homelessness multiple times. Yet, instead of succumbing to despair, he found strength and direction through mixed martial arts (MMA). Inspired by Kobe Bryant’s work ethic and Mike Tyson’s relentless drive, Barnes immersed himself in the discipline and focus of the sport.

“Basketball and martial arts became my sanctuary,” Barnes said. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life, playing basketball until I transitioned more into martial arts, muay thai and jiu-jitsu.”

“Watching Mike Tyson’s clips always got me motivated before games. That passion kept me going through all the trials of homelessness,” Barnes said.

Barnes’ dedication to MMA has been nothing short of remarkable. Training rigorously, he honed his skills in various disciplines, becoming proficient in striking and kicking. His hard work and perseverance paid off when he was selected to join Team USA for the World Games in Romania this coming fall.

“The World Games is an incredible opportunity for me,” Barnes said. “It means I finally get to step foot outside of the United States and travel and at this point in my life, I never thought that I would be able to experience new things like that. Competing on the world stage is both exciting and humbling.”

Liron Wilson, a 1998 graduate of University of La Verne, has been training Barnes in MMA for years. 

“Jared’s striking has been up to par but we’ve got to get his grappling better, but he has progressed really well,” Wilson said. “I expect him to peak by October, just in time for the World Games.”

Currently, Barnes is on the cusp of achieving a significant academic milestone. He holds an associate’s degree from Chaffey College and is set to walk across the stage next week as he completes his bachelor’s in Kinesiology. 

Senior Jared Barnes, Leopards men’s basketball team manager, lost his mother at the age of 13, which he said taught him the value of love and dedication. Dedication is what earned Barnes a chance to represent Team USA at the World Games in Romania this upcoming fall. / photo by Jack Janes

To support his studies, he works part-time at Pie Trap Pizza in Covina.

Barnes’ journey to the World Games is supported by the community and friends who have witnessed his growth and determination firsthand. As the manager of the Leopards’ men’s basketball team this past year, Barnes has been a role model for younger players, always offering support and guidance.

“Through all the ups and downs, Jared would always pick us up to boost the morale,” freshman shooting guard Elijah Akande said. “If anyone was in need of help or in trouble, Jared would be there instantly.”

“Jared was a big brother to everybody, and that’s the best way to put it,” freshman guard Amare Holmes said. “He just does all the small things and loves everyone.”

Barnes’ love for basketball and martial arts became his anchor during his years of homelessness. 

“Training and martial arts kept me going through all the trials,” Barnes said. “It’s about finding something you’re passionate about and letting that drive you to success. For me, it was about love and passion.”

As Barnes prepares for the World Games, he remains focused on his ultimate goal; to inspire others to pursue their passions, regardless of external pressures or hardships.

“Life is very difficult, but I’m glad you are here and have survived your most difficult days,” Barnes said. 

Barnes’ journey is a powerful reminder that adversity can be a crucible for greatness. From the loss of his mother and the trials of homelessness to the academic achievements and athletic prowess he now exhibits, Barnes embodies the spirit of resilience and the relentless pursuit of one’s dreams. 

Barnes’ story is not just about personal triumph; it’s about inspiring others to overcome their own challenges and achieve greatness.

“Find something to be passionate about, obsess over it, and let that drive you to success,” Barnes said. “Don’t let anybody or anything tell you that you can’t do something.”

Barnes is not just competing for medals at the World Games in Romania this fall; he’s competing to inspire, to show that with passion and determination, anything is possible. 

Jonas Holt can be reached at

Jonas Holt is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He is a staff writer and staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

Jack Janes, a senior journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine. He is also a staff photographer for both publications. He previously served as a Campus Times staff writer.

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