With Gloria's blessing — Francena is close to her mother and the Pierces live minutes away — Francena began considering the Pierces family too. She even calls them "Mom" and "Dad."
Though Cantrese tried to keep Francena organized, she said Francena made baffling choices. She was considered the top track recruit in the country for her class — she won 14 state titles at Bethel — and was named to the junior Olympic squad. She refused to go, working at Golden Corral for the summer instead.
Francena constantly said she would quit track, but didn't.
"Maybe once," Francena says of wanting to quit. "Actually, I'm lying. I don't ever like to have the 'what if' factor. … I never like to live in the unknown, so I can honestly say I would've pushed it until the very end. If it wasn't meant for me to run, I would have just hung up the towel, but I don't think I wanted to stop."
But Francena wants to stop, hunching over after her 300-meter run while training with Maurice at the Hampton track instead of walking 100 meters to keep the blood flowing and prevent lactic acid from staying in her legs.
Her time is 39 seconds, a second slower than she needs to be. Maurice says she slowed the last five meters.
"She's going to have to make that second up," he says. He notices her hunched over.
"Walk, walk, walk," he yells to her.
People who weren't close to the families assumed Francena was living with Gloria, so agents called the house to persuade Francena to turn professional. Cantrese and Gloria agreed Francena was too young and should go to college.
When it was recruitment time, Francena wasn't interested in talking to coaches from programs like Texas, UCLA and Miami. She would avoid meetings or had to be forced to talk to recruiters.
One night after Francena went to bed, Maurice told his wife he was going to recruit their goddaughter. Cantrese said he was going to have to do it like everyone else, putting on a tie and going to Gloria's house.
"I think it helped our relationship out in the long run because it let me know like, OK, I'm still your father figure, but I'm still professional as well," Francena said. "I think (Cantrese) doing that really helped me to see the difference between the two, and I think it helps our relationship to this day."
When Francena committed to Hampton University to run for the man she considered her father, everyone was stunned she did not go to a "bigger" program.
Her family was proud — she was the first of her siblings to go to college. When Francena enrolled in classes as a psychology major, her grades, which had improved, became the least of her family's worries. She was in a car accident, injuring her left foot. Six months later, she was in another car accident in which her lower back and pelvis were injured. She also had a hamstring injury that kept her off the track.
"It seemed like with everything that happened, she just grew stronger," Cantrese said. Francena won three NCAA championships at HU in 2009 and 2010. "...I don't know if she felt like she had to work harder to get back to where she was before the accident or mishap, but every time, she got better. She's had her share."