Borrowing a pencil or lending a friend a sweater is an everyday occurrence.

But giving a competitor a $260 swimsuit during a National Championship meet is a little different.

At the 2007 ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships last August, North Carolina’s Whitney Sprague had a less-than-stellar performance in the 800-meter freestyle.

Sprague’s friend in the next lane, Michigan’s Emily Brunemann, comforted her.

The two distance swimmers had their sights set on qualifying and traveling together to the Japan International Grand Prix meet later that month.

Brunemann lent Sprague one of her personal Speedo Fastskin FS Pro racing suits to improve her chances. A top-of-the-line competition suit, the FS Pro retails for $260.

“I don’t think I could have gotten through Nationals without her,” Sprague said. “She really wanted me to do well. She was just exactly what I needed when I was down.”

The duo swam head-to-head in three events during Nationals. In the 1,500-meter freestyle, Brunemann took first while Sprague finished fourth. But the medals carried little importance.

“It almost didn’t matter who won,” Brunemann said. “I really wanted her to go on that trip with me because she’s an amazing person as well as a competitor.”

Unfortunately for the duo, Sprague didn’t qualify to join Brunemann in Japan. But as two of the top collegiate distance swimmers in the nation, their paths were likely to cross again.

They first met as sophomores last March in the locker room at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis. They discovered some mutual friends from club and collegiate swim teams and quickly became friends.

Only getting to see each other at meets, the two keep in touch frequently through Facebook, but haven’t reunited since last August. They’ll have their chance this weekend at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Columbus.

“I’m really excited to see her,” Sprague said. “It’s fun to see how she’s doing, and to know that I have a friend when I go to Nationals or NCAAs.”

They both broke records in the 1,650-yard freestyle in their respective conferences this season, and swam the nation’s two fastest mile times. Sprague edged Brunemann by less than three-tenths of a second (15:51:02).

The NCAA Championships kick off tonight at Ohio State’s McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion with Brunemann and Sprague’s showdown set for Saturday. The 1,650-yard freestyle final is loaded with talent, but the duo have times more than seven seconds ahead of the nearest competitors.

“I don’t have a lot of other swimming friends from other sides of the country,” Sprague said. “As I’ve grown older, I’ve met more people, but she’s one person who I’ve met and really loved.”

Both Brunemann and Sprague haven’t faced tough competition this season, taking early leads and never looking back. They’ll see the stiffest distance competition of the season this weekend, but the end results will be more than just a trip to the podium.

“Yes it’s a race, and yes it’s a competition, but it’s almost more that,” Brunemann said. “Yeah, you win this race a couple times, but then you have a friend for a lot longer.”

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