Renaissance Woman Ditches the Rulebook and Tackles an Abandoned Acreage

Published on January 3, 2024

The Albuquerque Fire Rescue lieutenant and mother-to-be acknowledges she never followed a traditional path and that charting her own course has enabled her to tackle projects she never imagined doing.

Telling Athena Valanofeld what she can’t do is a losing bet. 

The Albuquerque Fire Rescue lieutenant and mother-to-be acknowledges she never followed a traditional path and that charting her own course has enabled her to tackle projects she never imagined doing. 

“I can’t say I’ve ever identified as a groundbreaker, but I know I’ve been described as one,” says Athena, who is also a trained blacksmith and silversmith. “It’s either a groundbreaker or Renaissance woman — I firmly believe you can do multiple things and not be limited.” 

Regarding pushing boundaries, Athena is currently renovating a property that’s been abandoned for 20 years into her future family’s forever home. The acreage and house outside Albuquerque require so much work, family and friends have called her crazy to take it on.  

But “crazy” has never deterred her in the past.

Empowered From an Early Age 

Athena’s dad was a contractor and her first memory on a "job” was at 5 years old — sitting on her dad’s lap on the couch, pretending to operate the Bobcat® skid-steer loader he used to install gravel earlier.  

Fast forward to today, and Athena is always up for the job. “A lot of that comes down to my parents and how I was raised,” she says. “It was never, ‘You’re a girl, you can’t do that.’ It was more just normalizing what I could do regardless of age or gender.” 

That early life lesson empowered Athena to follow her curiosity. She transitioned from an engineering major to art, got her master’s degree, moved out East for a while, and, finally, moved back to New Mexico to start her career at the Albuquerque Fire Rescue. 

“I’ve never been like, ‘I know what I want to do for the next 30 years,’” Athena says. “It’s more like, ‘cool — now I have this skill and I’m going to use it over here.’ Most of my life has kind of fallen into place. I’ve never followed a traditional path.”

Birds of a Feather Buck Tradition Together 

It makes sense that Athena would find a partner with a penchant for bending the rules.  

She met her husband, Richard, in February 2022 while she was working on a project at her parents’ house. “He let me borrow a couple company tools, and the rest was history,” Athena says. 

Their relationship took off quickly and the couple were soon planning their August wedding. In true trailblazer fashion, they decided to blend their last names (Valerio-Hirschfeld + Alano = Valanofeld) to share a new one, signifying their new life together.  

As discussion shifted to plans for their own house, Athena suggested the abandoned acreage as their future home. She fully recognized others would immediately dismiss the idea.  

But Richard wasn’t fazed. “I could definitely see her vision,” Richard said. “I knew we needed to do this — both for her and for our family.”

Right Sizing the Perfect Tractor 

With plans to start the renovation before their wedding, the couple hit the road to do a little shopping. “I had already dug close to a thousand feet of trench by hand — 4-feet deep, 18-inches wide — at my current house,” says Athena, “and I knew I’d have to do it again at this property. But we didn’t want to take the time to dig trench by hand, so a tractor made sense.”  

Athena knew the basics of what she needed but didn’t have a particular tractor in mind. After visits to three competitive dealerships, she was unimpressed. One was overpriced, another was pushy on buying all the implements on the spot and the third tried to get her to buy something bigger than she wanted. Then Richard spotted Bobcat of Albuquerque.

People joke that I bought the tractor as a gift for my husband. He bought it for me!

Athena Valanofeld

Acreage Owner

Bobcat Territory Manager Miguel Merino made an instant impression. He sat down to listen to what Athena wanted and never tried to upsell her.  

“If anything, he tried to down sell me on the size,” Athena recalls. “He asked, ‘Do you really need something that big?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, because I’m moving big rocks!’”  

The couple went home with a Bobcat CT2025 and several attachments, including a bucket, a backhoe, a pallet fork and a box blade.  

“It was our wedding gift to ourselves,” Athena says. “People joke that I bought the tractor as a gift for my husband. He bought it as a gift for me!” 

The new compact tractor was featured prominently in the newly minted Valanofelds’ wedding. They took their wedding photos with it, and Athena drove them around for a unique procession. It was this girl’s dream wedding: smiling on the tractor that would help her prepare the family’s future home. 

Happily Tackling the Honey-do List 

If you ask Athena what needs to be done on her new property, you better have some time. She plans to finish the well, dig a trench to the pump house, clear a culvert, stave off flooding, build a root cellar, rebuild the driveway and take out retaining walls, to name a few. 

“Knowing that I have the capability to do the jobs quicker and easier with a little bit less wear and tear, it’s a peace of mind,” she says.  

The full list of projects will take years to complete, Athena figures, especially considering the arrival of a newborn. Richard jokes that the family will finally be able to move into the house either when the kids start school or his wife retires from the fire department. But the do-it-all Athena smiles when she thinks of what life will be like on the property with her family one day.  

“We don’t know yet whether our baby will be a boy or a girl,” Athena says, “but it doesn’t change anything. Either way, my child and I will be out in the back 40 tackling whatever fun project needs to be done that day.”  

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