New Breckenridge resident mingles fibs and fun |

New Breckenridge resident mingles fibs and fun

If you run into a girl wearing a black skiing hat with silver sequences that spell out “INTENSE,” don’t believe everything you hear.

She may tell you she’s biked around the world or that she’s been a recruiter for male strippers. She claims she’s appeared on television’s

“ElimiDate” and even competed in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games skeleton. That’s what she’ll say, anyway.

In reality, Gretchen Barnes does have a life full of accolades and adventures. But sometimes, it’s hard to separate the reality from the fantasy.

“I just love meeting as many people as I can, and sometimes it’s fun to mess with their melons” the Breckenridge newcomer said. “I’m not very good at keeping a straight face though, so I usually give it away.”

The down-to-earth Midwestern 23-year-old reveals a fast laugh as her Shirley Temple curls bounce against her face. Bright brown eyes shimmer with a light-hearted mischievousness. But behind the unassuming facade lies an accomplished athlete, aspiring social worker and caring volunteer.

Softball is one arena Barnes’ tall tales can’t taint – she’s just about done it all. An All-American, All-Big-Ten, All-Region, Sweet Sixteen NCAA catcher and team captain for Northwestern University, she knows how to knock it out of the park. And at 22, she even holds the school’s all-time home run record.

“Gretchen is just an amazing softball player,” said college teammate Brie Brown. “She always will be. If we were down in the bottom of the seventh and she was up to bat, we knew we were going home with a notch in the win column. But even more than that, she pulled our team together with her spirit and her energy for four years. It’s not easy to replace that.”

Barnes herself is a bit more bashful about her softball triumphs. It was her niche for 17 years, and life beyond

Division I sports arrived. That’s not to say her athletic spirit has died. The Christy Sports employee hits the slopes five times a week – skiing, telemarking and snowboarding. She also hikes, snowshoes, cross country skies and frequents the Breckenridge Recreation Center. The active Rocky Mountain lifestyle suits her well.

“I always thought I was a big-city girl,” Barnes said. “But I took a month long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) trip in the North Cascades a year ago. I realized I had a love for the outdoors and beautiful surroundings.”

It took a summer to really knock it into her head, though. After graduating from Northwestern in June, the Flossmoor, Ill., native packed up for a summer internship in Los Angeles hoping to discover the next path in her life. She worked as an educator intern at USC University Hospital creating computer training programs for hospital administrators. After four months of long work days sandwiched between hour-long commutes, she knew she was in the wrong place.

“I moved to Breckenridge in December to search for some type of relaxed self-discovery while I figure out what I want to do with my life,” Barnes said. “I wasn’t ready to be thrown into the nine-to-five, business-suit-and-close-toed-shoes world.”

The free-spirited psychology major is beginning volunteer work for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in hopes of returning to her people-oriented passions. She laughs as she admits her tale-spewing habits may stem from her fascination with human emotion. But more likely, it’s about her love for people.

Barnes plans to earn her masters in social work from the University of Michigan and looks forward to putting those skills to work with troubled youth. In the meantime, her caring spirit has led to other supportive endeavors, including a two-year stint as president of the Northwestern chapter of Natural Ties, a national organization that promotes friendships between people with and without disabilities. She spent one night a week for four years attending movies, dinners and gatherings with friends with disabilities ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to Down syndrome.

“I miss them all,” said Barnes of her Natural Ties friends. “They gave more to me than I ever did to them. I would get about four calls a night from them just wanting to chat and talk about boys.”

A look of reminiscence passes over her face as she sweeps off her famous “INTENSE” hat. Her whole character defines the word – not just her tall tales, but her caring lifestyle and passionate heart. And before you assume the next saga she weaves is from her personal fiction collection, be aware that many of them are true.

So if you meet a Shirley Temple softball player who tells you she’s been kissed by Muhammad Ali, she’s flown a jet in combat, she used to play the oboe, she’s served Louis Farrakhan a corned beef sandwich or she’s had 22 teeth pulled S well, those are all actually true. The coffee eyes sparkle just the same, but this time with the twinkle of truth.

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