Outside the public housing in Northview Heights, a uniformed guard with a gun on his hip waits at the entrance booth, lifting the gate only after you show him your driver's license.
Miles Snyder lives there. He's 13, the second of 10 children, nine of them boys, in a four-bedroom apartment. Some believe Miles could run straight out of Northview forever one day -- with a stopwatch timing him.
Eugene Goodwine, president of Miles' youth football league, called to tell me of this boy "who came to us last year out of nowhere.'' Mr. Goodwine has spent many a Saturday morning watching kids play for the North Side Steelers behind Oliver High School, but Miles is unlike anyone else.
Although he was introduced to track and field only about eight weeks ago, Miles has qualified to run the 100-meter dash at the National Junior Olympics in Baltimore next week. He got the nod through qualifying races in California, Pa., and then in Delaware.
Other Western Pennsylvania boys and girls also have qualified, so what makes Miles worthy of ink they won't get?
Mr. Goodwine pointed to the number of children in his family, adding, "We all know how hard it is it raise one.''
So I drove to Northview and was introduced to this tall, slim, chiseled and serious 13-year-old boy. What I first mistook for shyness turned out to be uncommon maturity.
"Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is 13,'' said his mother, Brandi L. White, 34.
His uncles -- her older brothers -- were both standout athletes: Steve Snyder played basketball for South Hills High and Lawrenceville Catholic in the '80s and Linwood Snyder played football for Perry High and California University of Pennsylvania in the '90s. Athleticism may be in his genes, but Miles' determination and will are uniquely his own.
Lateia Goodwine, Eugene's wife, has been driving Miles to sprint practices with the Stallions Track Club on Neville Island. He works on his technique every day and is already talking like a veteran.
"I started winning too much and I got in a comfort zone,'' he said, analyzing a two-month-long career. "I thought I was just going to win every race.''
He was humbled when he was good enough to move on to, but not win, the qualifying races. "It definitely pushed me harder to, like, practice some more."
He needed to place at least fifth at the regional races in Delaware and that's just where he finished after four challenging heats.
"I really think if they had told Miles to get third [place], he would have gotten third,'' Mr. Goodwine said.
He raced against boys his own age, but who were bigger and stronger -- "humongous,'' as Miles put it -- in the Delaware races. These kids had years of experience and personal trainers, and "our people, where we come from, we don't have the funds to do that,'' Mr. Goodwine said.
Yet the Snyders know competition Miles' racing opponents will never know. The family moved across town from Beltzhoover to Northview Heights, about a year and a half ago, and Ms. White said, "We just had our first experience with how hard it can be up here.''
In a calm voice, she explained how a crowd of youths came down to call Miles out of the house to fight on Memorial Day.
"It was the whole neighborhood down here in the middle of the street, screaming for [Miles and his 16-year-old brother, Romello] to come outside. At that point,'' she said, "you really can't shy away from it.''
The boys went outside. The fight began. When too many jumped on Romello, his mother started pulling them off. A 17-year-old girl hit her on the back of her head. Ms. White fought back, "which is why my hands still look like this,'' she said, showing scars six weeks old.
"It is hard living up here,'' she said stoically. "It got even harder that day because they had to see their mom fight. It was quite heartbreaking. It took me some days to dry up my tears.
"But they figured out,'' she said of the attackers, allowing herself one chuckle, "the entire family will come out the door. There's too many of us. And they haven't been back.''
She'll drive Miles to his races in Baltimore. She set up an account for him at the PNC Bank branch at PNC Park, where any supporters can make deposits for him to defray travel expenses.
I've seen the race rosters listing dozens among the 68 entrants with better times than Miles' 12.05-second qualifying mark -- one boy's more than a full second faster. But Miles may have more for which to run.brianoneill
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.