The Folkema sisters took a different path than most twins going to college. Rebekah went off to Calvin in 2011, and Rachel stayed in Renfrew, Ont., to attend one more year of high school (which is an option for Canadian students). “It was hard at first with Rebekah leaving without me, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet and didn’t want to pay so much money if I was still undecided,” said Rachel. “I also wanted more independence, but a year later I ended up going to Calvin, doing the nursing program, and running cross country just like her.”
Despite their unorthodox start, the twins have left their mark on MIAA competition throughout their time at Calvin. Rebekah has amassed nine top-five finishes at MIAA track meets, in events from 200 to 1,500 meters. Rachel has also contributed significantly, scoring in either the 400 or 800 at all four MIAA meets in which she has taken part. The Folkemas have also had a lot of success in cross country, as Rebekah was among the team’s top five runners, while Rachel set a career-best with a 21st-place finish at the MIAA Jamboree.
The Folkemas were surprisingly joined this year by another set of identical twins on the cross country path—Kristen and Lauren Brinks.
The Brinks weren’t sure about competing in college, though, as they only ran three years between the two of them in high school. “I wasn’t sure if I was developed or good enough to run in college, but I knew I would probably regret it later if I didn’t try it,” said Kristen. “Our parents and high school coaches encouraged us to try it, too.”
Lauren agreed: “I decided to run because Kristen talked about how much she loved it. I didn’t know if I should run this year because senior year (in high school) I just did it for fun, but the coaches really encouraged us to give it a try.”
The coaches’ suspicions proved correct, as both Brinks quickly made their mark on the team. The talented twins both set personal bests early in the season. Lauren ran 19:00 at the Calvin College Knight Invitational, and Kristen battled through sickness to record a 19:19.
Both sets of twins agree it is not always easy to compete on the same team as your twin sister. “Rachel and I are extremely competitive. It’s a daily struggle to not compare ourselves to each other all the time,” said Rebekah. Rachel agreed, saying, “It’s hard not to compare yourself when people ask things like, ‘Who’s faster, you or your sister?’”
The Brinks also have run into this in their brief time at Calvin. “Because we train together, do the same workouts, and have the same stride and body, if I don’t do as well as her I don’t understand why,” Kristen said. “I’m starting to realize that she’s just going to be healthier or more mentally prepared some days, and I just have to do my very best.”
But the benefits of having a twin sister to run with mostly outweigh the difficulties, they said. “Rachel’s the one that knows me best, knows what drives me, encourages me, and where I need her most in a race,” said Rebekah. “She almost knows me better than I do in the aspect of what I’m capable of and drives me to reach that potential.”
Kristen agreed: “It was great to have a training partner during the summer, and she knows my strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, so she can give me pretty specific advice.”
Both sets of twins also train in the same groups for workouts and races, which they generally agree has been beneficial. “Working in the same pack as Kristen is great,” said Lauren. “We’ve worked well together our whole lives, and it’s no different when we run. We push each other at different times and give each other tough love.”
Rachel also appreciates the like-mindedness her sister brought to her training group. “She knows how I think, and we can read each other’s nonverbal signs to see how we’re feeling on runs. If I’m struggling she encourages me all the more to pick it up, and she’s one of the only ones I really listen to.”
And not every pair of twins has another pair on the team that shares many of the same experiences. “The Folkemas have been a big blessing in my life,” said Lauren. “They understand what we go through, and we relate to each other really well.”