Nancy is spare, direct and has her daughter's blue-gray gaze. She has come to pick up an outboard motor, inspect the latest work on the house, which André believes is progressing far too slowly, and to sit in the window seat and read and perhaps be drawn into some conversation about her daughter.
André, as Joan would, studied at Bowdoin, but Nancy, a native of Newton, Mass., went south to the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "But I grew up in the summers in Maine all my life," she says quickly. She seems representative of the community and continuity of the Maine that Joan loves, the Maine that honors the willful individual.
Of Joan's ability to almost hide her competitive nature in daily society, Nancy says, "Well, that's the way it should be, don't you think? Who wants to talk business all the time, if you know what I mean." She wasn't a pushy parent. Not at all. It has been hard for her to come to terms with the extremity of fatigue that Joan endures. "We believed that it was best that the children [Joan has three brothers] not be forced, only exposed to things," she says. "After that, it was up to them to decide how to spend their energies." Nancy can't really fault herself if Joan, once exposed to running, went to the limit with it.
After an hour, Joan and André arrive back. "Wore me out," they say in unison, pointing at each other. The parents have to rush off. "Invite us back when the house is all done," says André. "All done and picked up, sweetie."
Later, Benoit will go out for another light run, of six miles. That will make 18 for the day, plus a hard cross-country ski.
But cross-country isn't enough for her. Swift downhill skiing was her first sport. It was in rehabilitating a leg broken while skiing in high school that she discovered her talent for running. So the next morning, after a run and a fast breakfast, she and Scott chase their visitor into the Volvo and head out for the hour-and-a-half drive west to Sunday River, a downhill area on the New Hampshire border.
Scott crouches in the backseat, writing a paper on labor relations. Joan drives and narrates the passing scene, which consists of quaint towns, birch and maple hillsides and ice fishermen on white lakes. These lakes are different, more benign, than the ocean out the front window of her home. Benoit has a clear sense of the sea. "It's always there," she says. "Even if it's frozen, you respect it. Yesterday my dad went right out on the ice near Wolf Neck. I said, 'Uh, not me.' "
Talk turns to goals. What can she have left to attain after a world record and Olympic gold?
"Two-twenty," she says. A noble barrier. The first man to break it was Great Britain's Jim Peters in 1953. It is a 5:20-per-mile pace.
"But if I get it," she continues, "it will probably be in 1986, not this year. I want to do only one marathon in 1985." Precisely which one is a question. She'll train, reach racing fitness and then look around, in the same way that you try not to promise jars of jam to friends until you've picked the berries.