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The Sibling Advantage

  • By Ragan Sutterfield
  • Published Jun 18, 2013
  • Updated Oct 7, 2013 at 8:41 PM UTC
The Wassner twins. Photo: Patrik Giardino

The Wassner Twins

You won’t find a closer pair of triathlete siblings than the Wassner twins, Rebeccah and Laurel. Growing up in a sports-obsessed family, they were on the same swim team for 16 years. It was like racing a clone—literally. “We would always get really similar times, like within hundredths of a second,” Laurel says. Now as professional triathletes they continue to work off each other. “We are pushing each other every day,” Laurel says.

Rebeccah was the first of the twins to pursue professional triathlon. She competed in marathons for a few years, but “didn’t want to waste my swimming abilities by just running.” As she went pro and began training with other athletes, she kept thinking of her sister, “Laurel could be doing this too. Why isn’t she out here?”

Laurel had been going through her own physical challenge. A year after graduating from college she was diagnosed with cancer, a disease that she overcame with a hard bout of chemotherapy. A few years passed before she was ready to pursue anything athletic again. It was Rebeccah, whom Laurel calls her “biggest fan,” who got her off the couch and into the world of triathlon. It was a holistic effort, as Rebeccah even made Laurel lunches to wean her off the junk food she’d been eating. “She would cook me kale before kale was cool,” Laurel says.

As Laurel turned pro, it wasn’t hard for her to find a good training plan: Rebeccah was being coached by Cliff English, and Laurel would follow her sister’s plan. As she improved and was ready for more coaching, it only made sense that they would share the same coach since they trained together—a factor English says he has to take into account. “When I know they’re training together I know they’re training hard,” he says. “I have to sometimes tell them, ‘You need an easy day, so you shouldn’t train with your twin.’” It’s that competitive drive that makes the sisters such good training partners. “We know we can kill each other in a training session and then forgive each other the next day,” Laurel says. “Triathletes are so competitive, so you need an easygoing training partner who can forgive you if you beat them up a hill climb.”

It’s not just being able to push each other that give the sisters a sibling advantage. The twins help each other accomplish the critical work of recovery and nutrition. As their coach says, “A sibling can really help you stay on top of your game for all of the things we don’t like to do between training sessions—like foam rolling for recovery.”

Rebeccah and Laurel’s relationship has been evolving over the past two seasons as Rebeccah recently had her first child. The two sisters who regularly raced with each other are now setting out on a different calendar with different races. “I’ll help her with race prep and she’ll help me with babysitting,” Rebeccah says. Even with a different schedule the two remain close, encouraging and challenging each other. As Rebeccah cares for her new baby, she says “Laurel is back doing bike workouts on the trainer in my apartment.”

Both Rebeccah and Laurel Wassner will be competing at this weekend’s TriRock Philadelphia triathlon. Learn more about the race and the TriRock series at Trirockseries.com. The TriRock Series is owned by Triathlete.com’s parent company, Competitor Group, Inc.

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