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From rivals to teammates to friends

Rae Ann Darling Reed began noticing it last fall.

Cross country runners from Manatee would hang out with their counterparts from Lakewood Ranch. They’d hang out. They’d have slumber parties.

“And all the stuff that teenage girls do,” said Reed, who coaches Manatee’s girls cross country and track teams.

This was a new one for Reed. When she was a prep cross country athlete, your teammates were your teammates and your rivals were your rivals.

“You weren’t friends,” she said.

But she isn’t complaining.

“For me to see that, and knowing that I had a part in facilitating that,” Reed said, “it makes me feel really good.”

Reed’s role will continue June 19-20 when she will take six county athletes to the 2009 USATF/Region Junior Olympic Qualifier at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs. The top three from each event qualify for the national meet in Greensboro, N.C., in late July.

It’s a mixed bag Reed is taking to Altamonte, with Manatee (Diana Nelson, Nicole Iglesias and Jessica Pate), Lakewood Ranch (Kelsey Grimaldi and Megan Reuss) and Palmetto (Jessica McKinnis) sending girls.

The six, rivals in the fall and spring, will join forces to run for, which Reed created.

“I figured they would get along,” Reed said. “I didn’t expect them to become such good friends. But it shows you can be competitive and you can be rivals — but you can still be friends.”

Friends who make themselves better. The six girls all come from different coaches and different programs, allowing them to trade different tips when they come together each summer.

“Everyone has different experience,” Reed said, “and little things that they can pick up from each other.”

Each runner will run in two events. And Grimaldi, McKinnis, Iglesias and Reuss will make up the 3,200-meter relay team.

It’s good to be competitive and good to have rivals. But occasionally, it’s just as good to drop the gloves and make a friend, as well — as long as the gloves go back on next fall, of course.

That’s one of the reasons Reed created — to bring different people together through running. And one of the reasons she’s offering her first running camp this summer at G.T. Bray. More information can be found at

Before then, however, she will try to help six girls from different portions of the county reach the national championship meet.

Then again, she’s already helped them plenty.

“They’re definitely friends,” Reed said. “They’re not just acquaintances.”