July 13, 2010

By Amy Farnum

The daughter of two officers in the United States Army, Towson University runner Brandi Gervais has grown accustomed to the family's military lifestyle over the years, but her senior season maybe a bit more challenging as both parents were deployed to Iraq in May.

Gervais was born in Augsburg, Germany when her parents, Chris and Maria, were stationed overseas. Only a year later, Gervais' parents were deployed at the same time to Iraq for the first Gulf War, and Brandi was sent to South Carolina to live with her grandparents.

Since that time, the Gervais family has lived in eight different states and in Germany twice. While Gervais was in eighth grade, the family was living in Germany but both parents were deployed to Turkey - her grandfather came from South Carolina for extended stay to serve as her guardian.

The family returned to the States for Gervais' high school years, landing in Missouri. Gervais always played team sports growing up because it was an easy way of making friends, and was on the volleyball team for the first two years at Waynesville High School - but that was before she caught the running bug.

"My mom started running when she joined the Army and has always been an avid runner," said Gervais. "The summer before my junior year, we spent a lot of time together and we would go out running. It was always our alone time together - and that's how I got hooked."

Gervais decided to give running a shot as a junior, and garnered All-State honors in her first season. As a senior, she finished second at the Missouri 5K State 4A Championships - just four seconds behind the winner. Gervais kept running in college at nearby Southeast Missouri State, earning All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a freshman after finishing 12th in the league championship meet. But when her parents were relocated again to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Gervais - an only child - transferred to Towson - 45 minutes down the road -- to remain close to them.

With the Tigers, Gervais continued her solid running career, including three top 10 finishes in cross country last season, while carrying a 4.0 GPA - the only upperclassman student-athlete at Towson to do so.

"I think growing up in the military lifestyle I learned to be self-disciplined," said Gervais. "I'll make myself study and do the work, and commit to make the effort and put in the time. My parents also taught me to put all my effort into something, but don't overdo it. You also have to have fun. I think finding that balance has allowed me not to stress out too much."

Gervais also set the Towson indoor track record in the 5,000 with a 17:45.33 last winter, and was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America third team for Track & Field/Cross Country in June.

"She has an incredible work ethic," said Towson coach Roger Erricker. "Most athletes you have to push. Brandi I have to pull back because she always wants to do more. She's highly motivated. For her to stay at the level that she is athletically and academically -- especially now with her parents both in Iraq now -- it is incredible."

This summer, Gervais is adjusting to life with her parents stationed over 6,000 miles away in Baghdad. She is renting an off-campus house with three teammates and taking care of the family's three dogs, while juggling responsibilities as a student-athlete and an academic tutor.

"I thought this time would be the easiest just because I'm older now, but this deployment has been the hardest on me because during the other ones I always had a family member that helped me out and watched over me," said Gervais. "Now, I am completely on my own. Most of my family lives in South Carolina, so this has probably been the roughest one so far."

Her father Chris, a Lt. Colonel, and mother Maria, a Colonel, hardly ever miss one of Gervais' competitions, but despite their physical absence this year, communication amongst the family is the best-ever during this deployment. Gervais' parents rarely get to see each other as they are living at different camps in Baghdad, however, they have been able to keep up with Brandi thanks to advancements in technology.

"E-mail is the easiest way to communicate," said Gervais. "We try to talk, but because of the time difference they can only call me about mid-afternoon and usually I'm working during that time. We just figured out how to use Skype, too."

Gervais' teammates and coaches are acting as her extended family, which is also easing her long separation from her parents, who are scheduled to be back in the United States next June.

"Part of my challenge is to be there for her, and to be sensitive to the situation and it is going to be tough for her," said Erricker. "One thing that will help her through it is that running cross country and track -- we have competitions almost every weekend. That will occupy her mentally."

Erricker has named Gervais captain of the cross country team for the upcoming season as she sets a stellar example on and off the track.

"The cross country team has over a 3.5 GPA, but she sets the standard with a 4.0 for everybody to look to," said Erricker. "The same with running - she puts in the mileage, she never shortchanges it."