Marie Rainey speaks with a mother's pride about her son's capacity for compassion.
"It's way above the normal mark,'' she said. "That's just who he is."
Jake Rainey, the younger of Marie's two sons, also is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee. He runs cross country and track. Last fall, the former all-state standout from Rossview High in Clarksville followed up his SEC all-freshman cross country debut by becoming the Vols' No. 2 runner in the season's final two meets. His track career was tracing a similar arch. UT honored him last year as its freshman of the year after the outdoor season.
Jake had a running start on what he describes as his "dream" until Marie was involved in a car accident last November. Jake assessed the fallout and determined that it would be better if he sat out track season and assisted his mother with her recovery.
The gesture reaffirmed Marie's belief in her son's character. The memory surely would rank right up there with Jake volunteering to help handicapped students during his middle school lunch break.
In this case, though, Marie couldn't help but be wary. That's just who she is.
"She basically said to me that she doesn't want me to be able to say: 'You held me back,' " Jake said.
Jake's selflessness prevailed over Marie's concerns — but only after input from J.J Clark, Tennessee's director of track and field, and the reassurance that Jake's dream wouldn't be derailed, just sidetracked for a semester.
"As a mom, you don't want to ever say (to your child), you can't do something because I need your help,'' Marie said.
After the accident, she initially said next to nothing. Jake didn't know the full details until returning home for winter break. Marie was concerned that he might be stressed out during final exams.
Marie was inclined to be self-suffi
cient. She's divorced and raised Jake and his older brother, Zeek, as a single mom, working as a middle school science teacher.
"She is probably the most independent, strongest person that I know," Jake said. "With two sons growing up, she wouldn't ask for help. She would try to lift something heavy on her own first before she'd try to get us to help her. She doesn't want to be limited by anything."
The accident — the car Marie was driving was rear-ended while she was at a stop sign — imposed serious limitations. For now, her heavy lifting is limited to 8 pounds. She's undergone multiple surgeries as well as therapy for her back and neck. The concussive aftereffects have been particularly vexing and protracted. She didn't return to work at Rossview Middle School until last month.
While staying in school, Jake has traveled back to Clarksville on most weekends. He's missed a few school assignments in order to be there for her surgeries. Marie said that she was "going nuts" over whether Jake would be home during spring break.
Both mother and son conceded to the strain caused by the situation. For example, Jake has always been able to talk to his mother. His friends have marveled at his revelations to her. To him, it felt like he was talking to them. While the familiarity didn't change, the regularity of their conversations was impacted by the prevailing circumstances.
"Normally, I'd call my mom just about every night,'' he said, "and now, I guess, maybe to get away from the stress of it all, I would only be calling her weekly."
Marie, 53, has sensed a shift in their relationship but doesn't see a fault line spreading between them.
"I know Jake and I will get through this,'' she said. "It's frustrating; it's stressful. But I know he loves me. It's all going to be fine."
Jake is chalking up the experience as a dose of reality. Marie always had been there for him, including countless hours during high school, driving him to national meets. Seemed appropriate that he reciprocate.
The more he thinks about it, the less likely he is to take a Mother's Day for granted. His next competition holds greater significance, too.
"It's not only made me appreciate my relationship with her and her health but it makes you appreciate the things you are doing here at the university,'' Jake said.
"In the season, you focus in on the race. You don't see the big picture."
Jake sees many things more clearly now. That's who he has become.