Running the gauntlet

By John Doe

The rain didn’t stop until later that afternoon on April 9, 2011, but Desiree Pettiford still needed to go to track practice. She laid down in her bed, waiting for the text that would say practice is canceled; however, it never came and she begins to leave shortly after 10 a.m. A short practice ensues and she leaves the track around 11:30 a.m., a little over an hour after arriving. Instead of heading straight home, she decides to make a quick stop to the local market to buy some food for her daughter.

She wonders what type of fruit Anya would like. Picking between strawberries, pineapple or watermelon, she hesitantly chooses watermelon.

“She’s really picky,” Pettiford said. “It’s weird, she’ll like something one day and not want it the next.”

Pausing for a few moments, she skips the vegetables knowing the distaste her 3-year-old daughter has for them. Next on the makeshift list is lunch. There was pizza sauce at home, so why not pizza?

After grabbing the shredded cheese and pizza dough, she dismisses pepperoni knowing Anya will probably not want any when she arrives.

A Student, Mother and Athlete

Pettiford, 20, is an Oakland University junior, who while juggling classes as a full-time student and running for the track and field team, has raised her daughter since senior year of high school at Pontiac Northern as a single mother.

Transitioning from a high school teenager to a single mother wasn’t as difficult once Pettiford got the hang of it.

“Once you start doing it, it’s not hard,” she said. ¬†“I don’t see it as difficult, it’s almost habit. It’s like I already had kids since I was a teenager.”

It helped that she received the OU Trustee Academic Success Scholarship. The current requirements to keep the scholarship are to maintain a 2.5 GPA and have weekly meetings with a mentor for the first two years of college.

Still, she wasn’t immune to the pressures of childbearing. Eventually, Pettiford felt overwhelmed and contemplated quitting school her freshman year, but her mentor Angie Freeman, who is now her best friend, talked her out of it.

“We had to meet every week anyway, but she kind of refused for me to give up,” Pettiford said. “She’d drag both of us to an event and play with Anya when she came over, so I could clear my head.”

Even after a close “mental breakdown,” she decided to keep the knowledge of her having a daughter to herself.

“I feel like if I tell them, my professors or coaches, they would have given me special treatment,” Pettiford said. “I didn’t want that and I know given the opportunity, I’d take it.”

It wasn’t until she brought her daughter to play with her 400m coach’s child that the team found out about her.

Now, she tries to bring her along to any activities around the Oakland Center and track meets close to home.

Despite the nonstop schedule, she finds track to be a stress reliever.

“Running is my escape. That’s why I went back to it in college,” Pettiford said. “I needed some kind of outlet. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time, but it’s my daily break I guess.”

Crowded household

Desiree and her daughter live together in a single room in a house that is occupied by her mother and five younger siblings. Ranging in age from 11-16, her brothers Jalil and Jamal and sisters Zakiya, Aja and Aminah can be heard echoing from the door.

Sibling clashes and screams can be overheard from downstairs and the TV was loud enough to reach the upstairs bedroom.

“I’ve kind of learned to block it all out,” Pettiford said, as she started to lie down on her flattened pink pillow.

The floor has various toys in each corner of the bedroom and a small bed accompanies hers against the wall. A mixture of books, notebooks and a single blanket lay on the floor.

The sound of the front door being opened jettisons Pettiford up from the bed.

“That must be her,” she says as she moves out the door.

Her grandmother arrives with Anya in hand. Desiree Sr. takes care of Anya when her mother is at school or running track. She runs a day care center where she watches over her.

“My grandmother helps me a lot, watching her when I need to do school work or head to track meets. Sunday is really my only day off,” Pettiford said.

Anya looks timid at first, but as soon as her mother takes off her coat and gloves she heads to her small DVD player in front of the small blanket on the floor.

“Do you want pizza? You don’t want pizza?” Pettiford asks.

Anya wants French fries and chicken nuggets, but she already ate all of the French fries her mother tells her.

“Dora the Explorer,” her favorite cartoon character plays on the screen on the portable DVD player. Her curiosity of someone other than her mother to play with overtakes her as her energy skyrockets.

She yells out words after they are said on the show.

“Volcano! She said volcano!” ¬†Anya says while simultaneously laughing.

Anya starts to jump up and down with a blue balloon that surely is on its last days; sometimes she falls to the floor trying to leap for it in the air. The deflated blue balloon dips back and forth toward the ceiling.

“What is most surprising is seeing how her little personality has grown. I think that is what has surprised me the most since I’ve had her,” Pettiford said.

Pettiford’s passion lies in media design. She hopes after graduating with a major in journalism and a minor in graphic design, she will land a job where her creativity can flourish.