When Bellingham sprints coach Dena Birade watches senior Chantal Tran and junior Alyssa Porter, she sees a little bit of herself.
Sure, the Red Raiders duo runs the same individual events - 100 and 200 meters - that Birade won United States Masters titles in last summer, but this goes much deeper.
The same drive and determination it took Birade to reach that level of success she sees in her protégés.
"They're a pleasure to coach because they are so committed," Birade said in a phone interview. "They never miss a practice. They're thinking about track and what they need to do on and off the field. They're kind of surreal to work with because of their level of commitment. ... This is my passion. Any time I can share that with these girls, it motivates me and it motivates them."
They definitely seem to be doing a good job motivating each other, as Bellingham's dynamic duo enters the Class 2A State Track and Field Championships, which begin Thursday, May 23, and run through Saturday, May 25, at Mount Tahoma High School, seeded highly in their events.
Porter enters as the No. 1 seed in the 100 with a time of 12.51 seconds and the seventh seed in the 200 (25.79), while Tran is tied with Sehome's Sarah Dolese with the second-fastest qualifying time in both the 100 (12.54 seconds) and 200 (25.51 seconds).
Any one of the three has to be considered serious contenders to walk away with either or both of the sprint titles this weekend.
And as if that weren't enough, Porter and Tran help Bellingham enter as the No. 2 seed to Sehome in the 4x100 - an event the Red Raiders claimed the state title in last year - with a time of 49.19 seconds and the No. 3 seed in the 4x200 relay at 1:44.51.
"I just want to do well at state," Tran said in a phone interview. "I'm hoping to get through to finals in all my events, maybe defend our title in the 4x1. I may be dreaming big, but I think we can do it. If I can PR and have fun doing it, that will be good. This is my last year, so I just want to enjoy it."
Though they're both committed to excellence on the track, Tran and Porter said they know how to have fun together, too.
In practice, they seem to be able to flip a switch between "super silly" days and ultra-competitive days when they need to focus, Tran said.
"I think we both really enjoy working together," Porter said in a phone interview. "There are times where we can have fun and make jokes and there are times when we need to turn it on and be serious. We both know when it's time to compete, it's time to compete. It's good to have someone you want to work with who can keep you focused."
Though Porter and Tran are extremely determined on race day, they are not particularly competitive with each other.
In fact with their one-for-all, all-for-one attitude, it's almost like they see it as having two chances to win each race, rather than just one.
"I don't think about competing with Alyssa," Tran said. "When she does well, it's like I do well. I'm super happy for her. It's just another person for me to be excited for."
And Porter has given Tran plenty to be excited about.
Besides winning the district title in the 100 last week, the junior placed second at sub-district, the Northwest Conference Championships, Birger Solberg Invitational and Bedlington Twilight and fifth at the Pasco Invitational. She's also finished in the top three every time she's run the 200 this year, except once.
Last year, Porter placed second at state in the 100 with a time of 12.41 seconds and fourth in the 200 in 25.86 seconds.
Not bad for somebody who didn't really take up running before she came to high school.
"The strength of Alyssa's race is definitely the ending phase," Birade said. "She had a poor start at district (in the 100). For her to come back and win like she did - you don't have a lot of time to come back. She is just so strong at the end of the race. When she gets the good beginnings down, look out."
The key to finishing strong, Birade said, is "putting power to the ground" - something both Porter and Tran are capable of doing.
"They both are great about getting in the weight room, and that's key for both of them," Birade said. "Chantal has a lot of power she's developed over the last four years. She was tiny when she came here four years ago, but the weight room has really made a difference for her and for Alyssa. ... There is no secret to their success. They've gotten where they are through hard work and dedication."
Unlike Porter, Tran had a middle school running background when she came to the Red Raiders.
But when she as a freshman hooked up with Birade, she took off like - well - a sprinter at full speed.
"Chantal is really a student of sprinting," Birade said. "She is very bright, and she realizes to get better in sprinting she has to work on her skill. She comes to practice to work on her technique every day. She's very coachable. When you try to teach her something, you see her immediately try to implement it."
The biggest improvements Birade said she's seen Tran make this year are in the 200, where she tied Dolese for the district title with a personal best time and finished in the top four every time she raced the event except once. Last year Tran placed fourth in the 100 and sixth in the 200 at the state meet.
She said one of the biggest reasons for her improvement is simply running next to somebody every day in practice that pushes her to get better.
"Alyssa definitely pushes me to be the best runner I can," Tran said. "She's really great in helping me develop."
Porter said Tran has been just as instrumental in her running career.
In fact, when Birade is working with other sprinters in practice, they serve as coaches for each other, picking up on little areas that each can improve on to get better.
"(Tran) has really inspired me," Porter said. "I came in not really knowing much about track at all. She is a big mentor that could help me when I needed. She's always been there for me. Any questions I have, I know Chantal is going to help me."
And that doesn't just go for on the track.
The friendship Porter and Tran developed in running has spilled over to the classroom and beyond.
Tran said they're now best friends and enjoy hanging out and watching everything from track videos to movies to their mutual favorite show "Grey's Anatomy."
"We're such good friends, it's going to be weird not having her here next year," Porter said. "We'll still keep in touch, and I'll still work hard, but I'm going to miss her. I'll still have Mary (Dyrland). I'll still have a great person to run with, and I'm sure I'll bond even more with her, but it will be different without Chantal."
After graduating, Tran plans to move on to London and the Hult International Business School, where she plans to major in International Business with an emphasis in Marketing.
The one down side is Hult does not have a track program, but Tran said she plans to keep running.
"I'm pretty competitive, so it's going to be tough not being able to compete anymore," Tran said. "I'll still have Alyssa and Mary and be able to watch them and live through them in running."
If anybody understands what that is like, it's Birade, who, even though she still competes on her own, has certainly enjoyed the opportunity to coach and watch Tran and Porter the last few years.
"My first year here was Chantal's freshman year," Birade said. "She really encouraged me to continue coaching. I just love her passion, and I share it. Then a year later Alyssa came along, and she had that same passion. I can't tell you how much it's meant to me to coach these two girls."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
STATE TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Thursday through Saturday, May 23-25
Site: Mount Tahoma High School, Tacoma
When: Friday and Saturday, May 24-25
Site: Eastern Washington University, Cheney
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.