ILWT Memories: A mirror image

ILWT author Tracey Happold-Brown and her sister Kim.

“It’s hard to hit her when she looks just like you,” a teammate once said to me.

“It makes me hit her teammates harder,” I replied.

If those lines were heard in a men’s lacrosse game, no one would blink.

But they were said in several women’s lacrosse games. And if the old adage is true that girls can be vicious, imagine how it was when you played against someone who looked like you.

That was college, and I got used to it.

But when my identical twin got sick during our junior year, I longed for the old trash talking.

For several years we were a dynamic duo, the right attack wing and the left attack wing. Me on one side, her on the other. We’d dodge; we’d go to the goal; we’d confuse the people we played against. She was right handed; I was left handed. This caused even more confusion.

Then at 16, my sister, my other attack wing – my better half in the game – developed worse asthma that left her repeatedly breathless despite new medicine and almost stole her life.

Her career at wing ended, but she went into the goal cage. At 5′ 11″, she rocked it. She was brilliant and won all sorts of awards. It was hinted at that I was only noticed because of her.

Flash forward to college decisions. We both knew we wanted to play. She wanted to go to school with me. I had always been “Twin B” or just “Happold” and I wanted to go somewhere else. When I blew out my elbow, she laughed.

We went to rival schools. She went to West Chester while I went to Shippensburg. Our rivalry made the news almost right away. She was interviewed by the local paper and she shared all the twin pranks we had done from changing classes to switching phone conversations with boyfriends. We both started college playing two sports. She played volleyball and I played tennis. We didn’t talk about lacrosse for the first time in our lives. We didn’t train together either.

We didn’t really see each other until our first place Division II battle. My twin was a backup goalie. I was moved to third home. She did not play in the varsity game, so I begged my coach to let me play some of the J.V. collegiate game just so I could play against her. Her teammates trash-talked her, so I made it my personal mission to make them pay. At the end of one of the games, I walked into their locker room where they were then trash-talking me, too. I couldn’t stand her teammates and they couldn’t stand me and my sister took the digs. I went up to her, hugged her, and walked away. At the end of our freshman season, she had won her first national championship with West Chester, while Shippensburg was a runner up. I’d become infamous on their team: they apparently hung a picture of me on their dart board. I laughed and trained even harder.

The next year was much of the same. West Chester was a perennial lacrosse powerhouse and Shippensburg was not. West Chester had quaint stores; Shippensburg had cows. The two-and-a-half-hour drive was killer. I remember riding on the chartered bus wondering if I should sit in the back because I felt like I was going to puke. For me, it was so much more than just a game every time I played her. My stomach was in knots.

My mom would wear a West Chester hat and a Shippensburg shirt while my dad would wear a Shippensburg hat and a West Chester shirt. At the end of the game they’d change into the gear of the winning team.

That day at West Chester was bitterly cold and brilliantly sunny. My sister didn’t play a lot of the game. Her teammates kept making comments about her, so I made it a point to make my stick a weapon when the referees weren’t looking. It was an ugly game and West Chester won. My sister gave me my third concussion in three games. When I yelled, the referee told me to “settle it at home” and then asked me if I wanted to fight.

West Chester won the championship that year, too.

Her health came back to haunt her in her junior year of college as well and our junior and senior years wouldn’t be the same. My sister became extremely ill in her junior year and almost died. She was forced to retire from lacrosse.

I kept playing, and I still hated her team more than any other team we played. I played so hard that her coach told her, “I think I got the wrong twin.” I went on to be an All-American. I still dug into her now ex-teammates every chance I got. I even ended up in the goal cage once myself when my coach pulled me off the field after leading the team in goals and assists for the year. My save percentage was just as high as our regular goalie’s was. I channeled my twin and sucked it up. I had a new respect for goalies that day.

And for all those people who said that I was riding on my sister’s success, I proved them wrong.

So for me, my greatest personal lacrosse memories are just like my life up until I was 17 and finished high school. My twin sister is tied into almost all of them – good, bad, indifferent. Some twins are mirror twins: one is right handed and one is left handed. We are mirror twins. We are opposites in almost every way, but she was and will always be a part of me.