Lauren and James Preston had grown accustomed to enjoying their daughter, Brandi, engaging in hobbies that might be considered typical of a 9-year-old girl.
"She's a Girl Scout who loves tap dancing, reading and she's a creative writer," said Lauren of her daughter, an "A" student at Winand Elementary in Pikesville.
"And of course, she loves her doll babies. But just when you think you know everything about your child.. . "
. . . She explodes from the starting blocks with a speed that her Ed Waters' Track Club coaches -- despite Brandi's being in her first organized track season -- describe as having Olympic potential.
Competing for Ed Waters' Track Club at last weekend's National AAU Junior Olympics in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Brandi finished first in the 100-meter -- in 13.75 seconds in her 9-10 category. She also ran a leg of the 400 relay team, which finished fourth.
It was the third time Preston had eclipsed her clocking of 13.76, which had her ranked third nationally in her age group in July.
"I'm surprised that I'm doing so well so soon, and that I've gotten as far as I have in my first year," said Preston, who has been beaten once in 12 races in the 100 this summer.
Preston also runs the 200 and regularly anchors the 400 relay squad, with her fastest split time in her leg being a 13.3 at the AAU regionals July 16-17.
"I sometimes get nervous while running the 200, but I seem to be more relaxed in the 100," Preston said. "Before a race, I just try to imagine myself striding, my arms pumping as I pass through the tape. I imagine myself winning."
Lauren Preston, who continues to marvel at her daughter's poise, often finds herself asking, "Is this my daughter? Is this for -- real?"
"I've heard whispers from several coaches who say the Olympics are in her future if she continues to progress," Lauren said. "But our primary goal is for her to have fun, and that's what her Ed Waters coach, Ralph Durant, keeps emphasizing."
Brandi's success isn't lost on her, but neither is her perspective.
"I'm the fastest 9-10 person in Ed Waters [boy or girl]," said the 5-foot-2, 100-pound Preston who stands out physically among the girls she competes against.
"My idols from the Olympics are Gail Devers, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Flo-Jo [Florence Griffith Joyner]. But what I like most about running is traveling and meeting the different people from the other teams. At our last track meet we had a swimming party that was a lot of fun."
Brandi's parents originally got her involved with Pikesville's Cheetah track club, coached by Foster Lampkin, in March as a replacement for the T-ball team Brandi left behind in Baltimore when the Prestons moved.
"We had no idea that she'd be a national champion," said James Preston. "I played soccer, my sisters played softball and field hockey, and my brother played football and wrestled. We just liked her being in athletics because we have an athletic family.
"But no one in our family has the kind of speed she has. She's still a raw runner with rather unpolished technique, but she's getting out of the blocks before kids who've been around for years."
Brandi's 13.76 in the July 9-10 regional qualifier at Mount St. Mary's ranked her third nationally, but she has since clocked 13.5.
"Right from the beginning, she was very determined. She listened to her coaches, took in the information and produced," Lauren said. "As a parent, I discovered a new side of her. She's matured so much.
"But she's still a little kid, and after every race, the first thing she wants to do is go back and talk with her friends."