Michelle Smith thinks of herself as lucky, which is an interesting viewpoint considering the trauma she's endured in recent weeks.
On June 5, a fire that started from a faulty air-conditioner wire in Smith's bedroom did extensive damage to the upper level of her family's Glen Burnie home. She lost her entire wardrobe, some diaries and numerous medals and plaques collected as a member of Old Mill's track team.
"Everything is gone," she said from a room in the Guest Quarters in Linthicum, where the Smiths are staying while their house is being repaired. "Most of the upstairs is pretty bad. The downstairs is OK, but there is a lot of smoke and water damage. I'm just glad no one was there at the time.
"My coaches and friends came over and gave me clothes and things. People have been real supportive. You can really tell who your friends are."
Smith's hotel stay is being curtailed by a much-needed diversion -- her upcoming trip to Russia. Smith and Old Mill teammate Raina Domneys are leaving Sunday for Moscow and will engage in a two-day competition in the city of Yaroslavl as part of the Bethesda-based Pangaea Inc. international student exchange program.
The two athletes, both members of The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro track team, will stay with host families in Yaroslavl and Klin. They will be treated to select tours, along with 46 other students from across the state and will take part in a track clinic before returning to the U.S. July 11.
And for Smith, the timing couldn't be better.
"She does need to get away and get her thoughts on something else," said Michelle's mother, Donna Smith. "She's been looking forward to this for a long time. It came at a good time."
"It was an honor to get chosen," said Smith, 17, who just completed her junior year at Old Mill, where she placed first in the county in discus and first in the state in shot put. She also joined Domneys at the state meet as part of the Patriots' area-leading 400-meter relay team.
Domneys won county titles in the 100 hurdles and triple jump and led area girls in both events at the states.
For all of their exploits during the school year, Smith and Domneys gained the attention of Pangaea representatives during an indoor meet with a Russian contingent in Baltimore last winter.
"We were told they didn't just pick us from how well we did in the meet. They saw something in us, our sportsmanship," Smith said.
Barbara Salkin, president of Pangaea, said, "They're two very special girls, and we couldn't be happier to have them. They're talented athletes and extremely nice people."
They also proved adept at raising the necessary funds for the trip, including $1,200 each for plane tickets. The fire occurred just as they were arranging a car wash.
"A lot of things burned, but not my money or passport," Smith said.
Smith and Domneys will be venturing outside the United States for the first time, leaving behind certain conveniences and securities they know won't be available to them in Russia.
"I'm nervous and excited about it," said Smith, who will compete in the shot put, discus, triple jump, high jump and a relay event. "We might be staying with families by ourselves, or we may be in pairs. And they might not speak English. It's kind of an adventure.
L "We're bringing things like water and snacks, just in case."
Domneys, 15, who will compete in the 110-meter hurdles, triple jump and relays, called the journey "an experience of a lifetime."
"I thought it would be interesting running with their athletes. And this has encouraged me to keep fit during the summer. I don't normally jog every day and work out," she said.
"I was excited at first, then it started to turn to nervousness because we'll be flying on a plane for so long. And I can't call home any time. It's too difficult to put phone calls through right now.
bTC "We were told not to expect it to be like a vacation. We have to be flexible with food, bathroom toiletries, electricity and drinkable water. I'll just pretend we're camping."
This sort of adaptability is an important consideration in choosing a team to take to Russia, Salkin said.
"Every athlete we look at, we judge on the basis of their ability to compete, plus their ability to represent their state, their country and their families, and their ability to understand that this is a cultural exchange, as well as a competition," Salkin said.
"Life is very different there, but it's an incredible experience."