By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Cindy chain-smokes and watches her girls fly through the air. Sometimes they'll hike a few hundred yards down to the Brazos River.
Swimming in the river, Breanna inadvertently upset an alligator once, and the six-footer chased her to the riverbank, scaring the family enough to never swim there again. But ultimately, it wasn't an angry, cold-blooded reptile who ran Breanna out of Frog Town. It was her mother.
Older brother Brandon was the first to leave.
Two years ago, Cindy was driving him to school when the car started making an odd noise. Brandon, a self-taught mechanic, asked his mom to pull over so he could look at the fan belt and possibly fix it.
Cindy refused to stop. Brandon asked again, saying it would take just a second and he didn't want the car dying on her. She pulled over, but only to tell Brandon that she didn't want him monkeying around on the engine. According to Brandon, that's when Cindy slapped him.
Brandon got out, walked home and called a friend to pick him up. He moved in with his grandparents in Greenville, northeast of Dallas, and hasn't been back since. Now working 60 hours a week as a plumber's assistant, he devotes his free time to his "alternative punk" band At the Park. He says he got more involved in music after moving out, but he hasn't totally given up on the idea of bicycle racing again.
When he left, the responsibility of maintaining the bikes went to Breanna. And she says she inherited another task from him: taking the brunt of her mother's mood swings. Brandon says he never knew when Cindy would "flip out" and berate him for unknown wrongs.
On a day last June, Breanna had worked hours to get the bicycles ready for that night's practice. She rolled them out to the driveway to fill the tires, then realized the pump was broken. Cindy screamed at her -- why was the girl so stupid as to wait until the last minute to use the pump?
Standing there in the driveway, in her pedal-clip shoes and racing pants, Breanna had had enough.
"I never stood up to her ever finally, I got tired of it," she says. She told her mother she'd worked on the bikes all afternoon, that it wasn't her fault the pump was broken.
Then Cindy slapped her.
She told Breanna she should just leave. This time, Breanna did. She walked down the road to a neighbor's house and called her friend Megan Barclay to pick her up. She lived with Megan's family for three months before moving in with her aunt and uncle.
Brandon says he wasn't surprised. "We try not to talk about that stuff," he says. "Pretty much the same thing that happened to me happened to her."
"All of a sudden," Breanna says, "I understood why he left."
Cindy, who says that was the only time she hit Breanna, also thinks she knows why her daughter left.
As the oldest of five children, Cindy had to be the primary baby-sitter. She expected the same from Breanna, and she admits being harder on her. Having Breanna around was like having another mother in the house, she says.
The extra responsibility got to Cindy the same way it got to Breanna. Cindy left home at the same age. "I could sense [it] before she left ," Cindy says, her voice trailing off. She knows it was hard on Brandon and Breanna to be so isolated, and speaks of her daughter's departure as if she lost her best friend, the one she called "Sissy."
She says that she and Breanna are so much alike that they probably left home on the same month and day. But reconciliation was not in the works. The mother had tracked her missing daughter down 15 years earlier -- now it was not an option.
Megan says Cindy never called Breanna or visited during the three months Breanna was at her house. Breanna now lives with her aunt, uncle and two cousins in a nice two-story brick home near The Woodlands -- about as far away from Frog Town as one can get.
With one of her cousins in the same high school, Breanna quickly made friends. She got involved in school sports and clubs and enjoyed her new life. For almost six months, she never heard from her mother.
Then came the race in Pearland. Cindy broke her silence -- she walked up to Breanna and spewed her bitterness about Breanna leaving home, embarrassing her daughter in front of her teammates. Soon after that, others said Cindy saw Breanna talking to Hurricanes owner Ivy and assumed he was increasing her sponsorship while leaving her sisters behind.
Cindy exploded into more rage and had to be escorted off the grounds. Her daughter had indeed been talking to Ivy -- apologizing for her mother's earlier outburst. As Cindy was led away, she swore to Ivy that she'd take her other children off his team.
The confrontation came just before Thanksgiving, as Breanna was trying to concentrate on the Grand Nationals -- the ultimate race was only a weekend away.