Most professional baseball players could hit a ball before they hit puberty; most female tennis players started talking about ‘love’ before they were ever allowed to wear makeup. Generally speaking, successful athletes begin their careers early on, sometimes training as early as elementary school. And then were two… juniors Jake and James Waterman (or maybe Watermen is more grammatically correct?)- freaky fast twins who kick butt in cross country and track at the collegiate level. I think it’s safe to say that twins just run in their family, and they run fast! But despite both being All-Americans at Wheaton College and sharing dreams of making it to the Olympic trials in the steeplechase (who knew steeples could move?), neither one liked running when they were younger. According to James, “We never really liked to run at all…Typically running just hurts, and you don’t like it.” (Can I get an ‘amen’?) Soccer, on the other hand, was their sport of preference. So what led these twins back to the track, and how did their legs become deserving of Jimmy Johns’ slogan?

Even though their dad forcefully entered them into a few races while they were still pretty young, the Watermans didn’t take running seriously until their second year of high school. After being nagged into joining the track team in 8th grade, they quit after only 2 or 3 weeks. Things started to turn around their freshman year of high school when they joined the team late, again after intense badgering by some friends, and they discovered running could actually be fun under the right circumstances. At this point I just had to keep smiling and nodding because this is something I will never understand… Running and fun are like anchovies and tasty in my book. Anyhow, they liked their coach, practices were enjoyable, and oh yeah, they were the best.

They continued excelling as the years went on and eventually dropped soccer altogether. It was competition with one another that really fueled their desire for achievement, but it was their natural ability and hard work that allowed them to surpass everyone else while trying to outdo each other. In James’ own words, “We always liked to do the same thing…we had to prove one better than the other.” He said his competitive spirit pushed him “to prove I was just as good or better than him.” As a result, their times are nearly identical in most events, but James beat Jake out of the womb by 13 minutes, so take that how you wish.

But it would be misleading to say that they haven’t faced their share of adversity. Besides having to figure out how to enjoy the sport they dominated, Jake and James also experienced very traumatic events in their senior year of high school. Jake’s happened on the cross country course during the state championship. He and James were in 9th or 10th place with only 200 meters left, when Jake’s body suddenly shut down, and he was forced to walk to the finish line. He doesn’t even remember those last 200 meters, but only recalls waking up in the back of a truck with IVs attached. Jake explains, “ I was looking forward to that day all season and then it just ended so terribly.” It took a lot of courage and perseverance for him to race again once track season came along, but if James was going to do it, you bet Jake was going to as well.

James’ senior year of track didn’t go as he planned either, though. After working through an injury early on in the season, he was once again set back by illness and finally healthy just in time for the state competition in the one-mile race. He was hoping to get a personal record and possibly even a school record in the final heat. Neither of these goals would be accomplished however, as he didn’t even make it past the preliminary round. A lap-and-a-half into the race, a runner ahead of him cut him off, altering James’ stride, and caused the runner behind him to dig his spike into the back of James’ leg. James had to run the rest of the race barefoot and bloody, getting blisters from the track’s smoldering heat, depriving him of any fair chance for victory.

While these are pretty dramatic events in their young careers, they’re going to face yet another challenge next year when Jake leaves Wheaton to pursue his engineering degree, hoping to continue at either Purdue University or the University of Illinois. When I asked them whether or not they were apprehensive about leaving each other, neither seemed too concerned. They actually didn’t intend on going to the same college in the first place, but independently picked Wheaton as their school of choice. What they are curious about, however, is how their running times will be affected without having the constant sibling rivalry to fuel their drive. Jake is also going to have to adjust to the high demands of a Division 1 program, something he says should be much easier than if he was a freshman considering he has already gotten used to the pace of college academics.

And it is here we hit the fourth abnormality presented to me in the interview. 1) They’re twins. 2) They’ve been given an insane amount of natural talent. 3) They find running fun. And now 4) They’re good enough to be running at the D1 level, yet have chosen to compete for a small liberal arts college. What strange boys… Naturally, I asked them to explain this decision. Turns out that just because they like to run, does not mean that they like to be run. James explains his sentiments in the following sound clip: In essence, they forsook the D1 accolades to focus more on academics, enjoy the social atmosphere of college, and protect their bodies.

But if running’s not the focus of their lives, then why try so hard? Both James and Jake claim that the reason they work so diligently at their sport is because of their faith. The twins are self-declared Christians and claim that this means that their bodies no longer belongs to them, but to God. Therefore, anything they do they must do to the best of their abilities, seeking to glorify the Lord with the talents He gave them. Pretty thick stuff for a couple of 5’10ers who weigh in at only 125 pounds.

With that, I’ll wrap up with the tall and skinny. Sorry, I mean the short and skinny. James and Jake are just two similar-looking guys running against the wind. While sports have become an idol in today’s society, these twins refuse to be fooled. They didn’t spend a lot of time running until they enjoyed doing it, and even since then they have been able to keep it in perspective. I think James and Jake are pretty good examples of the ideal student-athlete: talented, dedicated, self-aware, and well balanced. These are qualities that will take them far in life beyond the track, and maybe we will even see them chasing steeples in Rio 2016. Now, if only making corny jokes was an Olympic sport…

Jake and James after the 2012 NCAA D3 Cross Country Meet
Jake and James After the 2012 NCAA D3 Cross Country Meet