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Nothing breaks up these friends turned rivals

At the 2008 Winter X Games, snowboarder
Ellery Hollingsworth stood at the top of the
halfpipe during the women's superpipe finals and
cheered for her friend Lizzy Beerman.

It was both girls' first time competing at Winter
X, their sport's most prestigious event, but only
Beerman qualified for the finals. Despite her
disappointment, Hollingsworth wanted to support
her close friend. So she stood, shivering and
screaming, as Lizzy dropped into the Aspen, Colo.,
halfpipe and eventually finished sixth overall.

At this year's X Games, their roles reversed as
Hollingsworth advanced to the finals and Beerman
supported her friend from the sidelines.
"She stood at the top of the pipe with me,"
Hollingsworth says. "We have a good support system."

Now seniors at Stratton Mountain School
(Stratton, Vt.), Hollingsworth and Beerman have
been friends since sixth grade. Despite opposing
each other often over the years, they have
developed a close bond.

Hollingsworth admits competing against
a close friend like Beerman makes losing more
difficult and winning more complicated. Still, the
two snowboarders serve as proof that it's possible
to balance close friendships with fierce athletic
competition.

Balancing Act

5 Tips for competing against friends.


Sometimes -- in the case of these two --
competing against a friend even elevates your game.
"We both wanted to be pro snowboarders and we
realized our rivalry helped push us toward that goal,"
Hollingsworth says.

Like other elite athletes across the
country, Hollingsworth and
Beerman have learned the key
to balancing friendship
with competition is
drawing clear
boundary lines.

"This is really tough for a lot of girls," says Dr.
Beth Howlett, a certified sports psychologist who
works with elite high school and college athletes.
"They let their feelings get in the way and they
have a hard time separating their emotions. They
often worry about the effect what happens in
competition will have on their relationships."

Like with any good relationship, communication
is the key to successfully competing against friends.
"If you communicate before a contest and say
to your friend, 'Let's go out there, play our hardest
and may the best man win,' then there are no hard
feelings," Howlett says.

Before each meet, Central Cambria (Ebensburg,
Pa.) track/cross country runners Kendall and
Kelsey Seymour hug, wish one another good luck
and then head to opposite ends of the track to
warm up. That sets a clear boundary between their
relationship as friends/sisters and competitors.

"We are competing for the same thing and we
can't let a sister or a friend get in the way," Kendall
says. "A true friend understands."

After contests, it's important for the winning
competitor to be respectful of the other person's
feelings. Sometimes that means complimenting a
specific aspect of her game. Other times, it means
backing off and giving her time to process the loss.

It's equally important for the losing party to
be supportive of her friend's success, though
she should also be clear about how she's feeling
as long as she doesn't deliberately sabotage her
friend's good mood.

At the start of her freshman year at
Harriton (Rosemont, Pa.), now-sophomore Jennie
Shulkin challenged her friend, then-junior Casey
Robinson, to a match that would determine
who'd play No. 1 singles that season. Robinson
had played in the No. 2 position the year before
and expected to be No. 1.

The freshman won. Robinson asked for a
rematch, but Shulkin won again.

"Casey was upset because she expected she
would be number one, and I respected that,"
says Shulkin, who gave Robinson distance after
the match.

By competing against friends numerous times
throughout the years, Shulkin has learned it's best
to visualize the person across the net as just another
girl in a rival uniform. That approach helped Shulkin
finish third at state last year before missing her
sophomore season due to shoulder surgery.

Shulkin's approach is a great way to separate
friendship from competition. But it works only if
you're clear that once the match starts your friend
is just another opponent you'll play at the top of
your game in order to beat.

It doesn't do anybody good if friendship
impacts one's performance, especially if it
means playing below your ability to spare your
friend's feelings.

"It's hard to not think about how they are
feeling or that I care about them, but I have to
focus and do what I need to do to win," Shulkin
says. "But after a match, if I win I'll say a few kind
words or give her a hug. I have to be more tender
with a friend and also respect that she may not
want to talk to me right away."

Surfer Malia Manuel, a sophomore at Kapa'a
(Kapa'a, Hawaii), has competed against friends for
years. Manuel and Leila Hurst -- now a sophomore
at Kula (Kilauea, Hawaii) -- met in kindergarten
but now live on opposite sides of the Hawaiian
island of Kuai. They look forward to contests so
they can catch up and see how the other's skills
have progressed.

Once an event begins, Manuel and Hurst
don't take it easy on each other. But at the
same time they're cognizant that the heat of
competition doesn't mean there's an excuse to
be a bad friend.

"Leila is a really aggressive contest surfer, so
I have to stay super alert," Manuel says. "During a
contest heat, we don't talk to each other and we
try to watch each other's rides while still looking
for waves of our own.

"I like competing against my friends because
we don't use any of the mean tactics some of the
girls have been taught," she adds. "I've had a lot
of mean things happen to me in the water and
used to get hurt by it, but that's how you know if
someone is a true friend. They know friendship is
more important than burning you in a contest."

This balancing act is even more difficult when
your friend is also your sister.

That's the case with the Seymour sisters.
Kendall is a sophomore at Central Cambria while
Kelsey is a junior. Their older sister, Carly, graduated
last year and now runs cross country at Duke.

The Seymour sisters have spent years
balancing their home life with their friendship
while remaining some of the most competitive
runners in Pennsylvania. Carly may have gone off
to college, but the sibling rivalry between Kendall
and Kelsey remains strong.

"We're best friends," Kelsey says. "We do
everything together. Running has brought us
closer, but it's hard sometimes. Everyone compares
us to one another and when one of us has a bad
day we come home to the same house."

The flip side is that after a bad day, they have
their best friend at home to cheer them up.
"Kelsey and I run similar races," Kendall says.
"Our times are real close and she pushes me
through the races."

At last year's state finals, Kendall fell at the
start of her race and eventually finished 72nd
individually -- nearly 60 places behind her sister,
who finished 15th. Devastated at the thought that
she cost her team the state title, Kendall went for a
cool-down run to prolong the moment when she
would have to face her teammates.

Turns out Central Cambria still scraped by and
captured the team title despite Kendall's fall. And
guess who was the first to tell her the good news,
just moments after the two finished battling for
individual supremacy.

"My sister ran to find me and told me we'd
won," Kendall says. "She said that if I hadn't gotten
back up and finished the race, we would have lost.
She knew I was upset and came searching for me
so I would have something positive to focus on.
That's what friendship is about."

Of course, celebrating together is the cure-all
for competing against friends.

During the next year, the friendship of
Hollingsworth and Beerman will face the ultimate
test as they take aim at qualifying for the 2010
Winter Olympics. In an ideal world, they'd both
make the Olympic team. But if they don't, history
tells us they'll be supportive of one another, no
matter what.

"The toughest thing about competing
against Lizzy is when one of us is on the bubble,"
Hollingsworth says. "It's bittersweet to know I
have a chance to make the finals but I will have
to knock her out to do it. It's so much better to
celebrate together."

Alyssa Roenigk covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.