TWICE THE TALENT
How the identical Taylor twins reused to compromise their education and became two of the best track athletes in America. "I was absolutely blown away by the Ivy League academic achievements of these
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 2002
Imagine a beautiful teenage girl who grows up to earn an academic scholarship at an Ivy League school and while there, establishes herself as one of the best collegiate track and field athletes in the country. After graduating with a degree in one of the most difficult majors, such as mechanical engineering or perhaps cognitive neuroscience, she goes on to become a contender for an Olympic gold medal. Considering the difficulty of achieving this level of success in both athletics and academics, you might say that it’s possible that such a woman could exist but not probable. Now imagine that there are identical twins who have achieved exactly that. Sound too far-fetched? A script from the Twilight Zone? Then let me introduce you to Brenda and Lindsay Taylor.
In the world of track and field, there has never been anything quite like Brenda and Lindsay Taylor. Identical twins from Boone, North Carolina, these 23-year-old women have established themselves as athletes who have excellent chances of making the next Olympic team.
Brenda, an outstanding hurdler, won the 2001 NCAA Track and Field championships in the 400-meter hurdles, placed third at the US Nationals and made the semifinals of the World Championships. She also received the Honda Award as America’s top collegiate woman athlete in track and field. This year she placed third at the US Nationals (she did not compete in the World Championships in 2002, as they are held every two years). Brenda’s best time is 55.46. Lindsay, a heptathlete, was also a standout in college, earning 11 Ivy League titles and breaking seven school records. She placed sixth this year in the US Nationals. Her best score is 5,578. Impressive physical accomplishments, don’t you agree? Now let’s talk about their brains.
Despite having the opportunity to attend any major college on their athletic scholarships, the twins decided to accept academic scholarships to Ivy League universities. Brenda, who plans to become a doctor, graduated from Harvard with a degree in cognitive neuroscience. Lindsay graduated from Brown University with a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in biomedical engineering and plans on pursuing a PhD.
How did the Taylor twins achieve such success? Did supportive parents set them on their paths? Or is there something unique in their genetic makeup? Here is their story.
When they were 10, the Taylors moved to Boone, a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. Says Lindsay, “Boone has hiking trails, gorgeous waterfalls, great lakes to swim in and streams to jump into---that’s a lot of what we did growing up.” Says Brenda, “I remember when we moved to Boone that Lindsay and I were amazed because there were cows grazing in people’s yards. We weren’t really sure what to make of that.”
As for formal physical activities, the twins were gymnasts from the age of six, but their height became an issue because they, as Brenda says, “started breaking equipment.” Next on the list was swimming, followed by volleyball, which they participated in throughout high school, and then track and field. “We didn’t start track until our freshman year in high school,” says Brenda. “We were decent swimmers and volleyball players, but we were much more successful in track. When the time came that colleges were recruiting, they were calling me about track and not about swimming. And both of us liked track much better.”
Because they were such great athletes, Joel Williams, the track coach at Watauga High School, decided to put the twins in as many events as possible. Brenda comments, “In high school Lindsay and I were on the same team. To score as many points as possible we would be put into different events. So instead of having us come in first and second, I was put into events where I could get first and Lindsay was put into events where she could get first. I was a stronger sprinter and hurdler than Lindsay, and Lindsay was a stronger jumper, so she would focus on the jumps and I would focus on the sprints and hurdles.”
A key part of the Taylor twins’ conditioning is weight training, which they took up seriously in high school. Says Lindsay, “When I was in high school the football coach was an avid reader of Bigger Faster Stronger magazine, and his weight training program was a product of what he had read. He helped my high school track coach work out a program based on what he had learned from BFS.” At present, both women have progressed to the level where they can power clean 190 pounds; Lindsay can full squat 250, whereas Brenda can full squat 280 and parallel squat 350.
While in high school the twins had received recruiting offers from many colleges with strong track programs. They had assumed they would be going to one of these colleges, but after high school they decided on Ivy League universities instead. They made exceptional choices.
“I wanted to pursue a degree in cognitive neuroscience, and I knew that my textbooks would be written by my professors. On my visit to Harvard, I was asking questions of persons who were on the cutting edge of the research they were doing---I was really drawn to that,” says Brenda. When I visited, the thing that people kept telling me was, “You’ll have new roommates, and every day you’ll learn something amazing that they’ve done. And I just thought that would be one of the greatest things I could get out of college---the interaction with so many incredible people. You can be inspired so much by their energy.”
Lindsay majored in mechanical engineering. “I decided in high school that I wanted a degree in engineering so that I could pursue a career in prosthetic design. I figured that if I took an athletic scholarship, I would be forced to focus primarily on track. Engineering is a very difficult major, so my first thought was to find an engineering program that suited me, and then make my final choice based on the school’s athletic program. Another important consideration was that my parents have always encouraged Brenda and me to pursue an academic career above all else, so when the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school presented itself, I couldn’t even consider another alternative. During my visit to Brown I fell in love with the campus and the people I met. It was the most wonderful environment I had ever been in---I felt so at home there. On my recruiting trip a student said, ‘Brown is a microcosm of what the world could be like if we could all just get along. Harvard students may lead the world, but Brown students will change it.’ The profundity of that statement astonished me, it has been with me ever since.”
To help defray the costs of attending college, both Brenda and Lindsay were able to receive academic scholarships---which was an economic necessity since neither Harvard nor Brown gives athletic scholarships. Says Brenda, “I think the explanation is they’re trying to attract people with diverse qualities and talents, and it would go against their principles for them to say they’re going to give an athletic scholarship as opposed to a scholarship to the best violinist in the United States, or whatever field that person stands out in.”
Lindsay and Brenda excelled both academically and athletically at their respective campuses, which only goes to disprove the widespread notion that great athletes cannot perform equally well in academics. Brenda remembers, “Every year after spring break the Harvard track team would run in two meets in Houston. When inevitably we were asked what school we were from and we said Harvard, people would say, ‘Harvard has a track team?’ And of course whenever our Harvard athletes won their events, everyone was just shocked.”
Although many superstar athletes would argue that academics interferes with their training, Lindsay says that the discipline that track and field develops, especially in regard to time management, can carry over to other aspects of life. “