Track and field

Reservoir senior Quentin James competes in each event with new intensity, as if it were the last contest his mother might see

The race of his life

February 21, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,sun reporter

In the past, Quentin James' motivations centered on his track exploits: proving doubters wrong, beating a formidable rival and earning All-Metro status.

But this winter, the singular inspiration for the Reservoir senior, who was the only Howard County track and field athlete to capture four individual events at the county championships Jan. 26, has been his mother, Veronica, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September.

"The thought that she won't be here tomorrow, while I'm at school, living and breathing just like any other person, is the worst," Quentin James, 17, said. "I have had to give it 130 percent every day now, since I've seen my mom hurting. Now I want to do well. I don't want to look bad in front of my mom, because I don't know if it's going to be the last race she's ever going to see."

Veronica James, 43, has been the family's biggest overachiever. Four years ago, she decided to enroll at Washington Bible College in Lanham to major in counseling. At 5 feet 9, she became the best hitter on the school's volleyball team and top rebounder on the basketball squad, shrugging off injuries and illness.

When she discovered a lump in her breast in August, Veronica James attributed the "swelling" to getting hit in the chest with a volleyball and didn't think much of it. But when it didn't subside after a month, Veronica James went to her doctor for an examination.

"I really thought that the doctor was going to say that it was a cyst and that it would be no big deal," she recalled. "And then he said, `Come into my office.' That's when I was like, `Oh no.' "

Veronica James was told that the lump was an indication of breast cancer and that surgery was required to remove the lump. Although the cancer had been caught early, she would have to undergo radiation treatments to prevent the spread of the cancer.

And she would have to cut back on her activities, which included teaching two Pilates classes and her roles on the volleyball and basketball teams at Washington Bible College.

Veronica James and her husband, Ricardo, waited a month before telling Quentin and his brother, Ross, a freshman at Reservoir.

The family banded together, with Ricardo James taking time off from his job as the director of acquisitions and finance for a community development corporation in Washington to take his wife to her medical appointments, and Quentin and Ross trying to keep their mother's stress to a minimum.

For Quentin James, however, the knowledge of his mother's fight was burdensome at times.

"I hope nobody ever has go through this ordeal," he said. "To know that your mother is weak and can't do anything, to see your mother in the hospital throwing up because of the anesthesia [for the operation], it hurts me. I can't let it show, because I have a younger brother. So I've got to do something to be able to let go of my anger. So I've been taking it out on the track."

Quentin James' ability to channel his energy into competition has resulted in some of the best times in the county and the state. After clocking in at 7.77 seconds in the 55-meter hurdles at the Montgomery Invite on Jan. 13, James won the hurdles, 300 and long and triple jumps at the county championships.

His time in the hurdles at the Montgomery Invite ranks 14th in the state, according to, a Web site that covers track and field and cross country. His leap of 42 feet, 7 inches in the triple jump ranks 12th.

But Quentin James' most surprising effort occurred in the 300, where he upset pre-race favorite Chris Brewington of Howard to cross the finish line in 35.37 seconds - a time that ranks sixth in the state and 43rd nationally, according to

"Quentin was a mild surprise to me this season," Hammond coach Mark Reedy said. "He was always fast, but he's turned his velocity up two notches since the spring. To challenge and beat Chris Brewington in the 300 is quite a feat. ... I think the thing that everyone overlooks is the sheer determination required by Quentin that day. He had three heats of hurdles, six long jumps, six triple jumps and the 300. A full plate by anyone's standards."

But days after the meet, few of Quentin James' friends knew about his accomplishments.

"When he won four gold medals, I told people who were like, `Seriously? Q didn't tell me anything about that,' " said Opeyemi Olagbaju, a fellow senior on the Gators' track and field team. "I think he didn't tell people because he's hungry. Four gold medals were great, but you've got to keep moving on and keep working harder."

Part of that is probably maturity, but another factor is Quentin James' self-described realization that his mother could be taken from him at any moment. As a result, James, who once dreamed of earning a scholarship to attend college, is now being courted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia Military Institute.

"He used to be the class clown, but he has pretty much taken it upon himself to get a scholarship because a lot of the family's money is going to take care of the mother," Reservoir coach Rita Williams said. "It's made him realize that nothing is promised to anyone. It's a sense of reality that he's been given a gift."

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