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Two Sets of Twins Contribute Doubly to Calvin Women’s Cross Country Team

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

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By Jacob Kuyvenhoven

Any freshman athlete at Calvin College has to go through something of an adjustment period.  There’s being away from home, a new level of competition, new coaches, a new class schedule, and of course, competing with dining hall food in your stomach.  But freshmen on Calvin’s cross country team face an even tougher challenge: figuring out how to tell two sets of identical twins apart.  Kristen and Lauren Brink are freshmen on the team, and Rachel Folkema is a junior, her twin Rebekah is a senior.

The Folkemas took a different path than most twins going to college, as Rebekah went off to Calvin in 2011 and Rachel stayed in Renfrew, Ontario to attend one more year of high school.  “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 the MIAA competition throughout their time at Calvin.  Rebekah has amassed nine top-five finishes at MIAA track meets, in events all the way from 200 to 1500 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 so far in 2013, as Rebekah has ran inside Calvin’s top five every meet so far while Rachel set a career best with a 21st-place finish at the MIAA Jamboree.  The twins have both struggled with injuries throughout their time at Calvin, and both agree it is a huge blessing to both run healthy this year.

“Being on the bike made it hard to feel like a real part of the team,” said Rebekah.  “I love having two legs in good shape to be running for the glory of His name.”

The Brinks are not the first in their family to compete in sports at Calvin, as their older brother Jordan is a leader on Calvin’s basketball team.  They weren’t completely sure about competing in college, though, as they only ran three years between the two of them in high school and still had some doubts.  “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,” commented 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 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 are quickly making their mark on the team. The talented twins both have set personal bests at 5,000 meters early in the season.  Lauren ran 19:00 at the Calvin College Knight Invitational and Kristen battled through sickness to record a 19:19.  Lauren also traveled with a 9-woman roster to run at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational.

While both sets of twins have certainly experienced success so far at Calvin, they agree it is not always easy to be competing 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 as you’d expect, the benefits of having a twin sister to run with often outweigh the difficulties.  “Rachel’s the one that knows me best, knows what drives me, encourages me, and where I need her most in a race,” says 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, saying “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 a beneficial experience.  “Working in the same pack as Kristen is great,” commented 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 appreciated 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.”

Through thick and thin, the twins have made a conscious effort to support each other.  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.”  Clearly, the four young women are an integral part of the Calvin Cross Country team’s success both on and off the course.

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