- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) - They start competing in the womb.

Fighting for nutrients, battling for space as they get bigger.

Kicking, of course. A little boxing, sure. Twins have an opponent from day one.

That ready-made rivalry, coupled with the comparisons they face once they’re born, is a perfect combination in life to do, what else? Play sports.

And, some researchers think, to have an edge in athletic competition.

Dozens of sets of twins have made their marks in professional sports. The NFL had Ronde and Tiki Barber. It has Devin and Jason McCourty. The NBA had Horace and Harvey Grant and Hoosiers Dick and Tom Van Arsdale.

And at Franklin College, a private, 1,000-student liberal arts college, there are five sets of twin athletes competing in football, softball, soccer, track and cross country.

All of them say having a double has been an advantage in sports, both as constant competition and as an ally and teammate from birth.

“We just try to challenge each other, little words of encouragement,” said Lucas Windell, a junior starting linebacker at Franklin, whose twin, Jeremiah, also starts at linebacker. “If I do better at this, you gotta buy me lunch.”

“We’re always competing,” Sara Thom, a sophomore outfielder on the softball team, whose twin, Jessica, plays third base, told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1pquqon ).

The advantage of twin rivalry, particularly in sports, isn’t just anecdotal. Plenty of research backs the concept, said Kim Ozark, president of Multiples of America, an organization focused on research, education and support of multiple-birth children and their families.

“Competition is just a natural part of being a twin and it starts at the moment of conception and especially at birth,” she said. “When twins are in the same sport and more so when they are on the same team, they may excel because they have a 24-hour practice partner, whereas their friends do not. And there is a link between performance and practice.”

If one twin starts to excel, she may push the other to catch up. If one twin falls behind, he may strive to achieve his twin’s athletic prowess.

But it’s not just the twins themselves who incite competition.

“We always tried not to compete, but people compare us,” said Abby Stayer, who plays soccer at Franklin with her twin, Emily, and has been known as the “evil twin” because of her ruthlessness on the field. “It’s going to happen.”

Adults, especially parents, often encourage rivalry between twins without realizing it, said Linda Wright in her study “Coping With Competition Between Twins” for NYU Langone Medical Center.

Consider the most common misconceptions about twins: There will be a good twin and bad twin; one twin will be smarter than the other; one will be a follower and the other a leader.

“Preconceptions held by adults and made known to the children almost guarantee that the children will sense the need to compete,” she said.

But what they compete in, and why it’s often the exact same sport? There is a science behind that.

Genetically-influenced traits - muscle strength, running speed, reaction time - they’re uncannily similar among twins, especially identical twins, said Stephen Ratchford, a doctoral research candidate in the human bioenergetics program at Ball State University.

“From a metabolic perspective, there appears to be a hereditary component to skeletal muscle metabolic enzymes, which facilitate energy production” for both high-intensity and endurance activities, he said.

Or as Franklin senior track and cross country star Michael Icenogle puts it: “We are so completely evenly matched.” His twin, Matthew, competes in the same sports.

Twins often have the same physical capacity and physiological makeup to compete in a certain type of sport, likely the same one, said Ratchford.

“It may be difficult for one twin to become a star Olympic lifter when the other is an accomplished endurance runner,” he said. “The first twin (trying) to distinguish himself as an explosive power athlete may have been a better endurance athlete like his brother.”

In the case of the five sets of Franklin twins, none opted for diverging sports paths in college. And for them, it has worked out splendidly.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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