HURRICANE, W.Va. — Olivia Hart says "bird" to her nearly 2-year-old daughter Penelope and the little girl smiles and flaps her arms.
"Penelope is super smart," Hart said. "She knows her colors and the sounds of 15 different animals. She catches on to things so quickly."
Hart says "snake" and Penelope sticks out her tongue. Mom and daughter laugh.
It's almost bedtime. Penelope's mom bathes her and lays the little one to sleep. Then Hart does her homework. A senior at Hurricane High School, Hart is a young mother. "Mom" is one of her more-important titles, ranking just behind "child of God." This 17-year-old teacher of Kindergarten Sunday school, honor student, future engineering major at Marshall University, daughter, sister and barista at a local coffee shop also is one of the better prep golfers in West Virginia.
Handling an overwhelmingly busy schedule is a challenge, but Hart makes it work.
"It's pretty tough at times," said Hart, who maintains a 4.5 grade point average, scored 32 on her ACT and takes nothing but weighted classes. "The support system of my family and friends is invaluable. They've accepted every situation, never backed down and never been embarrassed. The biggest challenge of motherhood and being a teen is that my social life isn't what it was. Adulthood came faster than I hoped."
Hart said she is thankful for her boss Pat Pelley at Books and Brews in Hurricane for being flexible with her schedule the last year and allowing her to earn money to spend mostly on Penelope. Pelley said Hart is a model employee.
"Olivia is always on time and always there when she's needed," Pelley said. "She's a hard worker and dedicated. She can perform any task in the store and has such a positive, upbeat attitude, which is so important in this business."
Hart was surprised by her pregnancy, especially when she didn't discover she was expecting until her 35th week.
"Penelope was a huge surprise," Hart said. "I'd only gained five pounds before I found out, then I started gaining weight. I met P, that's what we call her, a little early, but that just means I get to love her a little longer."
Hart's parents Ron and Martina - Penelope calls them "Peep" and "Nene" - were stunned at their daughter's pregnancy, but supportive.
"My amazing parents helped me through the shock," Hart said. "Without Pepe and Nene, I'd be lost. They are such amazing grandparents and would do anything for my little girl. They have always encouraged me and I'm so thankful for them. My mom said to rue the choices, but embrace the results and that's what we've done."
Hart's brothers, Wyatt, 28, and Vincent, 26, also have helped, as has sister Isabella, 15. Penelope calls Isabella "Auntie Bell."
"She is a role model to me in so many ways," Hart said of Isabella, a standout cheerleader, swimmer and track performer who also is a math whiz. "Her character is that of a mature woman. She is so talented and smart and I am so glad God made us sisters."
God. The constant in Hart's life. A lectur at Ascension Catholic Church in Teays Valley, West Virginia, Hart said Penelope has brought her closer to the Lord.
"It wasn't until after I had Penelope that I started lecturing and teaching Sunday school," Hart said. "I had to let go and let God. I'd advise anyone going through a teen pregnancy to never lose sight of God in your life. Trust the process and don't believe what people might say about you."
Hart was a church goer before Penelope was born, but immersed herself in her faith after the birth of her daughter. She said having a baby at such a young age led her to rely more deeply on God, a decision she cherishes.
Carolina Leachman, director of religious education at Ascension Catholic Church, noticed the change and said she is impressed with Hart's growth.
"Olivia is an amazing child," Leachman said. "She really stepped up to embrace her faith."
Hart said her inspiration, in part, comes from Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, " For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Hart said she knows she is secure in God's hands.
While her immediate future includes golf, when this high school season ends in October, she plans to swing her clubs only as recreation. A college-caliber player, Hart finished eighth in the West Virginia Women's State Amateur, shooting 4-over-par, 78. Last week, she made the all-tournament team at the Duke Ridgeley Invitational at Guyan Golf & Country Club after shooting 77, three strokes behind the winner. She was the Player of the Year on the recently concluded Callaway Tour.
"I've been thinking about it, but with a baby I'm not sure college golf is for me," Hart said. "I'm going to focus on my education. I'll still play. Golf is a game I can play until I'm 80 years old. Even though I probably won't play in college, for me it will be a lifetime sport that I'll always love."
Hart, who qualified for the state swimming meet as a freshman, has competed well with some of the better golfers in the Tri-State and ranks among the top girls in recent seasons. Her scores compare favorably with those of Kylie Day, Torren Kalaskey, Hanna Shrout, Beverly Toothman, Fuzzy Vance and other premier female golfers from the Tri-State.
At the encouragement of her brothers, Hart took up golf at age 6 and began playing competitively by the time she was 12. She and her brothers played many rounds at the Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Hurricane and the more she played, the greater she loved the game. Now, she and Luke Six co-captain Hurricane's squad.
Some day, Hart and Penelope might take to the links together.
"I won't force her, but I'll definitely encourage her to play golf," Hart said. "I've made so many friends and so many memories playing. It's such an active sport and it feels so good to play a great round. I hope she'll enjoy playing as much as I do."