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Athena Brattin-Cain is a 5-foot-3, 104-pound senior at Elsie Allen High School and the new Miss Sonoma County. For fun, guess whether the Santa Rosa native is also:

(A) A former varsity football lineman.

(B) A U.S. Marine in training.

(C) A hog farmer.

(D) All of the above.

Brattin-Cain is, astoundingly, (D).

“I think she’s going to be the strongest Miss Sonoma County we’ve had in a long time,” observed one of her agriculture teachers, Annette O’Kelley.

To Elsie Allen High’s principal, Mary Gail Stablein, it seems that as Brattin-Cain has successfully confronted considerable hardships and obstacles in life, she has concluded that she’s capable of achieving just about any goal she takes on. The principal shares that view of this young woman, born 18 years ago this November to teen parents not up to the task.

Brattin-Cain is matter-of-fact about having pretty much nothing going with her father. “I met him for the first time maybe two years ago,” she said.

She said she has lived at times with her mother, though, “We never got along very well.”

“I’ve bounced around a lot,” she said. She tells of growing up mostly with grandparents in Cloverdale and also spending time at Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, with an aunt and with friends.

She recounts becoming aware as a child that “people didn’t really expect anything from me.” She might have bought into their presumption, but instead she yearned to prove them wrong.

“I like to challenge myself,” she said.

She became good at Irish step dancing, as much a competitive sport as a performing art. When she arrived at Elsie Allen High as a sophomore, she gravitated to the agriculture department and Future Farmers of America.

Both the principal, Stablein, and teacher O’Kelley said it appeared to them that Brattin-Cain found a home in the ag department.

“She’s there most of the time,” O’Kelly said. “She’s quite successful, and she’s helping other students along the way.”

A school and district FFA officer, she raises hogs. “I’ll have two at the (Sonoma County) fair this year,” she said.

Her drive to take on challenges also took her somewhere precious few female high-school students have ventured: onto the Lobos’ junior-varsity, then varsity football teams.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

She did well, too, at women’s fast-pitch softball. But she found that football was more psychological and strategic.

She said she worked hard to overcome her teammates’ resistance and become “just another one of the guys.”

Elsie Allen doesn’t field large teams, so she had a good deal of playing time, mostly as a lineman. The position suited her, she said, “because I’m not good at catching but I can hit.”

She recalls sensing that opposing players sometimes went easy on her, until she knocked them down.

Brattin-Cain expects her athletic training will serve her well aspiration to join the U.S. Marine Corps

“My contract is signed,” she said. “I’m already sworn in.”

Her delayed entry agreement with the Corps allows her to finish high school before entering boot camp. She tells of being told that because she’s a few pounds too light for her height, she’ll be fed double rations.

The teen said she won’t go into Marines hoping for a job in an office or anywhere else distant from the action.

“I want to be on the ground. I want to do combat support,” she said.

She entered this year’s Miss Sonoma County scholarship program for pretty much the same reason she enlisted in the Marine Corps.

“For me,” she said, “if you don’t challenge yourself you don’t change yourself.”

Today Brattin-Cain rents a room in a Santa Rosa home, paying rent with earnings from her part-time job providing childcare at the YMCA.

As she approaches graduation from Elsie Allen, she’ll frequently don her tiara and make appearances as Miss Sonoma County. Twice a week, she pulls on workout clothes and strengthens herself in workouts with recruitment-office Marines.

She’s aware that if she makes the cut and joins the infantry, she’ll hoist a pack and other gear that may weigh as much or more than she does.

“I think I can do it. I’m ready for it,” she said.

Though she spoke of successfully bearing the burdens of a Marine, it seems she could have been addressing just about any challenge imaginable.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CJSPD.

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