MARILYN KNIGHT KEEPS threatening to grab a pen and start writing a book: "How to Raise an Olympic Athlete Through Illness, Divorce and Other Hardships."
"I know I've got an amazing story to tell," Knight said the other day, sitting in the front room of her row house in northeast Baltimore.
Knight's son is James Carter, the hurdler who graduated from Mervo and last month became the first Baltimore-area track star since 1980 to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. He will compete in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles next month in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.
The glory is all his, but Knight, who works as a nurse at the Keswick Multi-Care Center, deserves a share of the credit, too.
She was the one who got Carter started in track; the one who mothered him through a frightening illness; the one who spent her vacation time shepherding Carter to track meets across the East Coast; the one who exhausted her paycheck making sure Carter and his younger sister never went wanting.
"People ask me if I'd do it all over again, and the answer is yes, absolutely, and that's with or without James making the Olympic team," Knight said. "I believe it's a parent's job to sacrifice for their children. It's your obligation to do the best you can for them, especially if they're doing something positive, like James."
Not that Knight claims to have had it any harder than other working parents just trying to get by.
"I consider myself lucky, actually," she said, "because I never had to go through what so many other parents do. James was never interested in hanging out with the boys all night, or getting into drugs or drinking. All he wanted to do was run track."
Knight was going through a divorce a decade ago when a friend suggested she enroll James, then 11, in a track program. The idea was to give him a release for the anger he was feeling as his parents split up.
He quickly showed promise, but serious health concerns soon arose.
Carter complained of flu-like symptoms on and off for over a year, and more ominously, began falling - on his bike, while playing with friends, in the middle of a busy street, everywhere.
Knight tried various doctors and hospitals for over a year, without success. No one could tell her what was wrong, or even if anything was wrong.
"I'm a nurse, but I'd never encountered anything like it," Knight said. "It was terrible, very traumatic, because I knew something was wrong."
Finally, a neurologist at the University of Maryland came up with an answer.
James had myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease impeding the flow of "messages" through his nervous system. A tumor on his thymus gland was at the root of the problem.
"I was devastated," Knight said. "To see your child that sick is the worst thing for any parent."
But after 18 months of uncertainty, there was a swift and miraculous resolution.
The tumor proved benign and was removed in surgery, and all traces of the disease vanished. James went off his medicine two months after undergoing surgery.
"That was a decade ago, and he's been healthy ever since," Knight said, "although any time he calls and says he has a cold, I flinch."
To get her son from Mervo to the Olympics, Knight also had to stay on him about his schoolwork in high school, even resorting to pulling him off the track team until he straightened up.
"No one could believe I did that," she said with a smile, "but it worked."
After winning all-city honors at Mervo, Carter ran at Hampton University, then dropped out and concentrated on the Olympic trials. Money was always tight.
"Every payday, I walked across the street and put some of my paycheck in James' account, to make sure he had enough spending money," Knight said.
Carter's performances soared, but he was on the bubble as an Olympic qualifier; the top three finishers in his event would make the team, and many track insiders picked him to finish fourth at the trials in Sacramento, Calif., last month.
As Carter stepped into the starting blocks, having paid his own way to the trials, Knight was on her feet in her living room. Her daughter was upstairs. The rest of her family was at a reunion in Pennsylvania.
"When the race started, I screamed and screamed, and then when I saw that he was going to finish third [and make the team], I got down on my knees and shouted, `Thank you, Jesus,' " Knight said. "And then the phone started ringing. And it hasn't stopped ringing since."
Friends, family, agents, reporters, Olympic officials - they're all calling these days as Carter sits at home resting and training for Sydney, with Knight serving as his advocate.
"People ask me if I ever thought it would end up like this," Knight said, "and I just laugh. It still hasn't sunk it yet, really. He's going to the Olympics."
So is Knight, it turns out. Her bosses and co-workers at Keswick raised the money to pay for her airfare to Australia. They gave her the news in a ceremony last week.
"I'd been praying about it, hoping to find a way," she said, "and my prayers were answered."
As she relaxes on her flight to the other side of the world, she might just grab a pen and start writing that book.
"To get from where we were, when James couldn't even walk without falling down, to the Olympic Games, that's some journey," Knight said. "I think I've got a story that people should hear."