I’m a freshman in college, it’s pitch black outside, and I’m hoping that no one’s going to try and take me.”
It’s 5:15 a.m. in the fall of 2014. Despite the early-morning time, 5-foot-1-inch Octavia Bond, a first-year player on the Cal softball team, has been up for a little more than an hour already. With a sling supporting her recently surgically repaired shoulder and a backpack that is stuffed with school books and a handful of protein bars, she has already trekked from her Walnut Creek home to the nearby BART station. After getting on one of the earliest Pittsburg-Bay Point route trains, she transfers to a Richmond-bound train at MacArthur station before getting off at Downtown Berkeley.
At this odd hour, she is welcomed to her new college town by a pitch-black world and a long hike from Shattuck Avenue to Levine-Fricke Field — above Memorial Stadium. While other freshmen are sound asleep, Octavia begins her first assignment of the morning, making it to the team’s offseason morning workout on time.
Her day is just getting started.
Although she considers Walnut Creek her hometown, Octavia was initially raised in nearby Emeryville by parents Portia and Steve Bond IV. Emeryville is less than 5 miles from the UC Berkeley campus, and some consider it to be one of the more dangerous cities in the Bay Area. To ensure the safety of Octavia and her younger brother Stephen V, their parents decided to find creative ways for the two children to protect themselves while living in such an area.
“For a short time after I was born, we lived in Emeryville,” Octavia reflects. “I’m a small person, which I can proudly admit. But my parents wanted me to find a way to defend myself, and that’s how martial arts came about.”
Before their parents knew it, both Stephen and Octavia had taken a huge liking to not one, but several forms of martial arts. And the latter ended up doing it for more than just her own safety — she was finding success in it. Before she even began to seriously consider playing collegiate softball, Octavia had received lessons in four different forms of martial arts and ultimately racked up black-belt status in three of them — taekwondo, kumdo and hapkido.
“Aikido began when I was around 5 or 6 years old,” Octavia says. “(My parents) wanted to sign my brother up for taekwondo when we moved out to Walnut Creek, and I really wanted to do it as well. Gradually, I just wanted to do it more and more, and I liked the idea of being a small person but having the complete confidence that I can defend myself.”
Whether it be in martial arts or softball, she’s never allowed her lack of size to stop her from making an impact. If anything, it motivated her to work even harder for more playing time and opportunities to contribute.
“Deep down, she’s a warrior,” former travel ball coach and Cal softball alumna Kristen Morley says. “That kid will fight for anything that she wants.”
Octavia participated in her first official taekwondo tournament when she was eight years old. A yellow belt at the time, she got pushed up to face some 11- and 12-year-olds because of a tournament “oversight,” as her father recalls.
She walked away with two gold medals.
“She won the tournament, having never done something like that before,” Steve says. “I remember having tears in my eyes because you have these moments where you know that your kids are going to be OK in life, and that was one of those moments for me.”
It was a moment the family will treasure forever. A few years later, Octavia participated in a tournament at the national level. Her time at the competition got off to a rocky start when she had to wait well after the scheduled time slot to compete in her first fight — an experience that taught her to remain patient and prepared for when her number would be called to fight. When called upon, she performed so well that she left the national tournament with a silver medal. Her endless hours of practice and execution had become much more than just a way for her to defend herself. It was her way of charging her confidence and joy.
It’s now almost 6 a.m. as Octavia settles down for morning workouts with the rest of her teammates. She’s walked uphill for the past half hour from Downtown Berkeley to the athletic fields within Strawberry Canyon. And she isn’t even participating in the various weight-lifting and conditioning drills.
“I’d be there in a sling from my shoulder surgery, and everyone else is working out, and I’m just kind of standing there,” Octavia reflects. “I came all this way up for weight training and I’m not doing anything, but I have to be here and support the team and show that I want to be here, which I did.”
Because of multiple shoulder injuries stemming from a baserunning slide before her freshman year, Octavia opted for surgery rather than experiencing further discomfort. The injury forced her to sit out the entirety of her first year but didn’t exempt her from attending every offseason workout that the team held in the early mornings of each day. Aside from assisting her coaches, the second half of Octavia’s extended morning would consist mostly of observing her teammates.
Forget older competition at taekwondo tournaments. Without a car and commuting from Walnut Creek to Berkeley in the dark hours of the morning with one good shoulder, just to sit and watch her teammates run in circles and lift weights proved to be Octavia’s biggest physical and mental test to date. To her father, she did more than pass.
“She had to get to BART oftentimes by herself, which isn’t too far, but it’ll definitely tax your resolve,” Steve reflects. “She was on that first BART train at whatever time it was. It’s dark [outside], and a little girl navigating the streets of Berkeley trying to get to wherever she’s going, it was a real test.”
While Octavia admits that balancing her commute with school work and practice was occasionally tiring, it never broke her spirit and resolve. Fueled by a desire to help the team and give back to her parents who had supported her with all of her endeavors in sports, Octavia never blamed anyone for making her commute to campus at unusual hours by herself.
“She never made us feel guilty for not supporting her more than we should have,” Steve says. “She’s fully reliant on herself.”
There are no perfect players or teammates on any given team. But as her former coach Morley puts it, Octavia is someone who closely resembles the ideal teammate.
“She embodies and shows the character of the team,” Morley says. “If you can have a teammate who has more bad days than good days in terms of getting on the field, but still shows up every day and still works hard to make everything around herself and her teammates better, that shows the character of the team.”
By now, the sun has risen, signaling the conclusion of that day’s morning workouts. After she grew up so close to campus her whole life, it’s no surprise that UC Berkeley was Octavia’s dream school. Unlike her fellow classmates, who don’t rise out of bed until several hours after her, Octavia joins her teammates in the classroom, finding time to study and complete her homework during her morning and afternoon breaks. Waking up extra early every morning forced her to develop the skill of power napping throughout the day, while her stash of power bars kept her energy level up. Since she didn’t live near campus, bringing enough food for the day became crucial for her productivity.
Her long days continued with the next big thing on her schedule — afternoon practice. Typically beginning at 2 p.m., Octavia acted as Ninemire’s fourth assistant coach, doing everything she could to make those around her better. Sometimes, that would include helping her coaches set up things. More often than not, however, she contributed the most with the one consistent thing that never went unnoticed: her bright smile.
“My role is to bring as much positivity as possible,” Octavia says with a laugh. “I like to smile all the time. There’s been times when one of our coaches will say once you get on the field, there’s no happiness and there should be an anger when you’re playing, but I’m like, ‘I can’t help it!’ That’s just who I am.”
If Octavia’s positivity is displayed even when she’s sidelined with an injury, one can imagine just how excited she is to be healthy and contributing to the team she’s always dreamed of playing for. She joined the Bears after a standout career at Northgate High School, where she became the North Coast Section Division I and II all-time leader in stolen bases. After receiving the opportunity that she had always hoped for, a chance to play under coach Ninemire with the Bears, Octavia dislocated her shoulder sliding into third base during the summer heading into freshman year. It wasn’t until after winter break — when she dislocated it again while teaching taekwondo — that the decision for surgery was made, ending her first year before it even began.
As coincidental as it sounds, Morley had also dislocated her shoulder heading into her freshman year in 1999, forcing her to redshirt her first year as well. Through her former coach’s experience, Octavia learned what it meant to have a strong mind and an ability to balance patience with working hard to begin playing again. She’s now healthy and providing a spark during practices and games as an outfielder and baserunner.
“We have a phrase in our house: Life is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God. Her love for people is so genuine, and that’s what I love about her.”
Steve Bond IV
For the past two seasons, she was primarily an off-the-bench weapon for Cal. Her biggest contribution of her short career so far came in a postseason matchup with Texas State at the end of her redshirt freshman season.
“Coach (Ninemire) called me in and wanted me to be the designated player against Texas State,” Octavia reflects with a smile. “It was such a confidence booster that my coach believed in me to play a big role during the postseason, not just as a baserunner but also as a hitter.”
As a redshirt sophomore now, her collegiate playing career is still largely unwritten. But Morley knows that Octavia’s skills as a teammate, even more than her performance on the field, will be what make the biggest difference for her down the road. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing — she will still find ways to keep on improving the lives of others.
“She finds ways to contribute to society in so many different ways,” Morley says. “She steps onto the field and always has a smile on, always trying to help and always trying to make somebody better. There’s not too many people in this world who are like that.”
And as much as she’s accomplished as an athlete in her life, her father continues to remind her that there will be life after softball — a time that he expects will continue to be fueled by her joy for those around her.
“We have a phrase in our house,” Steve says. “Life is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God. Her love for people is so genuine, and that’s what I love about her.”
After a long practice of assisting coaches and strengthening her bond with her teammates, Octavia retraces her steps. The sun is now setting across the bay as she makes the journey down to the BART station with her taekwondo skills in her back pocket, should she need them. She boards the first — or second if there’s a long wait — train back to MacArthur where she transfers once again onto the yellow Pittsburg-Bay Point line. After getting off at the Walnut Creek station, a place where she knows she will return to in approximately nine hours, she heads off to the comfort of her favorite supporters — her family. She continued to make that same trip over and over again throughout the year and was fortunate enough to have a car during the years after her season of redshirting.
“I absolutely love living at home, especially since I have a car now,” Octavia says. “My family and I are very close, and they’re very supportive of every decision that I have to make.”
In addition to the family movie nights and home-cooked meals that come with living at home, Octavia is blessed to be so close to her loving family. It is through them that she reflects the joy and positivity that make her the teammate and person that she is today — one who is mentally strong on the inside and physically resilient on the outside.
And her father couldn’t be prouder.
“As a parent, you just want your kid to be happy,” Steve says. “She’s one of the happiest people I know, and the fact that she loves (softball) and wants everyone from her children to her great grandchildren to love the game and also love people is why I’m so proud of her.”
Her voyage through the streets of the East Bay has strengthened her inner resilience. Combining her effervescent personality with being a part of the UC Berkeley community has allowed her to share her passion for softball with others. And while her 5-foot-1-inch stature may trick people into thinking she needs to be defended, Octavia is capable of not only supporting others with her smile, but if needed, fighting for them.
Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]