On the outside, Alabama A&M freshman Michelle Scott appears to be a normal, carefree student-athlete. She experiments with makeup, goes to movies and hangs out at parties with her friends.
She jokes around with teammates between preparing for her middle-distance events in track and field. But Scott is running for a deeper purpose than achieving her best time.
With every stride, Scott attempts to distance herself from a haunting past. She was kicked out of her house during high school and only after moving in with one of her teammates found out she had been adopted. Although the experience has made her stronger, it's something she never wants to relive.
In October 2009, while a junior at Riverdale High School in Georgia, Scott got into one of many heated arguments with her mother. But this time, it quickly took a turn for the worse.
Years of tension from witnessing her mother being controlled by men and abusing cocaine came to a head.
The argument, Scott said, stemmed from her desire to finish high school and attend college. Her mother wanted her to enroll in the Job Corps program and join the workforce. Scott refused; she had a more grandiose vision for her life.
"No one in my family went to college, so they just assumed I wasn't going, either," Scott said.
Fed up with her daughter's disobedience, Scott's mother placed all of Michelle's clothes in trash bags on the porch and told her to get out.
Scott sat outside the house in the rain for two hours and thought about where she could go. She eventually knocked on the door, thinking her mother might have cooled down.
"I don't know why you're knocking on my door," her mother said when she opened the door. "As long as you don't want to obey my rules, you will never step foot in this house again. Is there anything else you need before you go?"
"My track shoes," Scott said.
After grabbing her shoes, her mother wished her well.
A 4.0 student ranked in the top five percent of her class, president of the National Honor Society and Elite Scholars program, Scott was the type of daughter any mother would want.
But there she was in the rain, on the curb, with yesterday's trash.
"Most kids don't want to get up and go to school, but high school and track were my escape from my home life," Scott said.
Later that day, Scott visited cross country teammate Earl Keith Jr. Scott told her story to his parents, and they opened their home to the excelling student. The Keiths took Scott in even though their house was being foreclosed on.
"I did not want to see her in the streets," Tina Keith, Earl's mother, told a local news station.
Even though adjusting to the rules of a new household was difficult, Scott continued to excel academically.
But just as life began to even out, things became more confusing.
After Scott lived with the Keiths for two months, they obtained temporary guardianship in December 2009. But what they discovered in the process took them seven months to reveal, and it would shake Scott's world.
"In July 2010 ... they told me they found out I was adopted and who I thought was my mother was actually my adopted mother," Scott said. "I was speechless."
Although the news was shocking, it helped bring her life into focus.
"I had always wondered why I didn't look like my mother," Scott said. "And why when I asked her to show me baby pictures or tell me stories about when I was younger, she would switch the topic or give very vague answers. Now I know why."
Armed with this new knowledge, Scott began to dig for more information about her past. She hit a dead end when she discovered her adoption case was closed, which meant her biological mother did not want to be contacted.
However, through court documents, Scott did find out her mother's name: Lisa Robinson. Scott also found out she had been taken away from Robinson at age 2. Her mother had suffered from drug addiction and was working as a prostitute.
"I really didn't know where to begin the search for her or if she was even alive," Scott said.
A child of the digital age, Scott used Facebook and Google to assist in the search for her biological mother.
"I've found plenty of Lisa Robinsons on Facebook, but I'm not even sure which one to contact since I have no idea what she looks like," Scott said.
Because of school, track and a lack of financial resources, Scott has been forced to put the search for her biological mother on hold.
She's most reminded of her lack of family life during school breaks. Scott said she spent last Christmas in Chicago with a friend's family. She doesn't get care packages from home, and her parents don't visit campus on weekends. "Being in school I get lonely, and I wish I had a mother to talk to when I have problems or parents to visit me and do all the stuff that parents do for their kids when they are in college," Scott said.
Her scholarship doesn't cover all her expenses, so she works two days a week for minimum wage at a local retail-clothing store.
Scott recently located her adoptive father, Roland Scott, through Facebook. The two were separated when Michelle was 11. Roland and Michelle's adoptive mother got a divorce. Roland said he came home one day to an empty house and had no way of knowing where his family had gone.
"I wish I made enough money so that she could just focus on her education and not worry about running track and working," Roland Scott said.
Although she lacks family support, Scott has her teammates, the track under her shoes and the hope that a college education will provide her with a better future.
She is majoring in biology and wants to become an anesthesiologist. Her other goals include becoming a fitness trainer, an NFL dancer or a Nike model.
Think her goals are out of reach?
She wasn't supposed to make it out of the home of her cocaine-addicted adoptive mother, make it off the porch that rainy day or receive an athletic scholarship. But she did.
"The perfect ending to my story would be achieving every goal I've set for myself," Scott said. "I'd be satisfied with just a bit of peace and happiness."