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'Canes' maverick on the mark

The black ink imbedded permanently on Katie Bombly's lower left calf means independent - or at least she believes so.

Not long ago, the free-spirited 17-year-old drove to Lakeland, where she had two Chinese characters tattooed to her skin.

The indelible ink - like the tight, flesh-revealing tops she often wears to practice - demonstrates Bombly's individualist attitude.

She doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. Not in the classroom, where she is an outspoken contributor. And not on the track, where she is often the fastest hurdler.

Bombly, a Citrus High senior, could qualify for the state meet this year. But she is interested in more than athletics.

She also wants to be different.

"I'm okay with myself," said Bombly, wearing a teammates' white T-shirt for an interview to cover her previously bare midriff. "I think I'm very strong. I'm happy doing whatever."

Sometimes, "whatever" means sports.

In four years at Citrus, Bombly has participated in cross country, swimming, track, soccer and weightlifting. She has been good at all of them.

Other times, "whatever" means academics.

An accomplished student and history buff, Bombly wants to study international affairs. Someday, she hopes to become an ambassador to a European country, and she wants to attend Georgetown, which has a renowed foreign service school.

She hopes she has impressed the admissions committee because she can understand Dutch - a language she gleaned from an ex-boyfriend.

But if Georgetown doesn't accept her - she'll learn her status soon - Bombly will attend Florida State, Appalachian State or North Florida.

She might hurdle in college. Or she might not. Either way, she'll continue running, because she loves the exercise.

"It's a stress reliever," Bombly said. "You have all this time to think. It gives you your own space."

Even on the track, Bombly is her own person, showing her individuality through two seashells tethered to her body.

One, a larger shell on her neck, was a gift from the Dutch ex-boyfriend. The other, on her ankle, came from another ex-boyfriend.

Bombly knows she is not the typical high schooler because she embraces her individuality. But she doesn't let it bother her.

"I don't care what people think of me," Bombly said. "I don't try to be like anyone."

But Bombly does conform on the athletic field. Like everyone else, she wants to win.

"She hates to come in second," coach Tom Darby said, recounting an instance during Bombly's sophomore year when she unhappily finished behind Lecanto's Lisa Bonadonna. "She enjoys competition."

Darby, also a physical education teacher, recalls watching Bombly intercept a football pass during a co-ed class her freshman year. He knew then - before he had seen her hurdle - Bombly would be an accomplished athlete.

"You don't see girls do that," Darby said, marveling at how Bombly anticipated the ball's flight. "She's pretty tough."

Still, Bombly almost didn't join the team this season. Busy with her job as a hostess at Outback Steakhouse, she wasn't sure she would have time.

Her hiatus lasted one meet. After watching Citrus compete last week for the first time, she couldn't help herself. She had to return.

"She was asking me for my uniform so she could run," said Deidra Miller, her teammate and friend since sixth grade.

Miller didn't give it to her. But Bombly was soon back in practice, after changing her work schedule. She's still at Outback about 20 hours each week, though she doesn't start until after practice.

Bombly relishes competing again, even as her reappearance at track practice has caused a small stir. She prefers to run in outfits that reveal her stomach, and she said some administrators have been upset.

"I don't know why," she said, a tinge of disapproval in her voice. "The boys run with their shirts off."

Bombly said she usually covers up when asked, but remains outspoken about her independence.

"If people don't like me, they're just going to have to deal with it," she said.

Brian Sumers can be reached at or 564-3628.