A Family Affair
May 16, 2008
From 10 feet away you probably can't tell the difference between seniors Kristen and Leigh Kalinowski. The West Nyack, N.Y. natives are identical twins who compete on Lafayette's women's track & field team. In addition to sharing DNA, the twins share a tradition of winning on College Hill.
Both Kalinowskis have been crowned Patriot League champions over the past four years at Lafayette. Leigh, a Biology and French double major, started the family's winning tradition in 2006 when she won the high jump at the Patriot League Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Kristen followed her sister with a victory in the heptathlon at the outdoor championships in 2007. She has continued her success this year by winning both the high jump and pentathlon at the 2008 Patriot League Indoor Championships and the heptathlon and high jump at the 2008 outdoor league championships.
"They are very competitive and intense kids who want to do well," said associate head coach Michele Curcio. "They are hard-nosed kids and I think that's the way they were brought up."
Kristen and Leigh have been competing together in track since middle school. Both began as high jumpers and moved into multi events in high school. Leigh began to compete in multi events (pentathlon and heptathlon) her sophomore year in high school. Although Kristen frequently competed in several of the events as well, she didn't join her sister in the multis until she qualified for the NCIS High School National Championships her junior year.
"Leigh was actually a better athlete than I was throughout high school," Kristen said. "She's quicker than I am and she was stronger than I was. I was always trying to keep up with her."
A chronic foot injury has forced Leigh to stop competing in multi events and focus solely on the high jump. She won the Patriot League title her sophomore year with a jump of 5'5", two inches higher than Kristen who finished in a three-way tie for second place.
Although the twins are often competing against each other at meets, they see each other as a motivation tool rather than an opponent.
"We've been training together for so long," Leigh said. "You want to win but you want her to win too. We have a different kind of language that we were trained with in high school so Coach Jackson might be saying something and she will tell me the same thing but with a different word that I'm used to hearing."
Kristen agrees. "I wouldn't mind if she beat me," she said. "She beat me at Lafayette vs. Lehigh this year and I was excited for her because I have other events that I can do but she's a high jumper first and foremost."
Kristen's performance has improved under the tutelage of Curcio and assistant coach Kareem Jackson. The two-year captain's efforts finally paid off in the spring of 2007 when she edged out Bucknell's Nina Reinhardt by 16 points to win the Patriot League heptathlon title.
"She worked so hard for it. I just know the amount of training she had put in and everything she had gone through," said Leigh, who counts watching her sister win the heptathlon just as satisfying as winning her own league championship. "It was close between her and Reinhardt and it eventually came down to the 800 meters, which is honestly the best way to win. She hadn't run that fast since high school but she just went with it."
Kristen built on her success this year and has emerged as a premier athlete in the league. She was named the Field Athlete of the Meet at the Patriot League Indoor and Outdoor Championships, winning the high jump and multi event at each. She set personal records in the 60-meter hurdles (9.04), high jump (5' 7¼") and long jump (16' 2¾") to win the indoor pentathlon with 3,539 points, the second-most in Lafayette history.
One of the areas where Kristen improved the most this year was in the hurdles. She set personal records in the in the 60-meter hurdles indoors and 100-meter hurdles outdoors, shaving .12 off her fastest time at the Patriot League Outdoor Championships to win the event in 14.64 seconds.
"Kristen made herself a good hurdler even though she doesn't have the foot speed," Curcio said. "She wins on strength and the technical aspects."
Kristen won five of the seven events in the heptathlon at the 2008 Patriot League Outdoor Championships at Navy. In addition to the hurdles, she set personal records in the 200 meters, shot put and javelin to compile 4,725 points for the win. Her victory in the women's high jump earned a trip to the NCAA Regional Championships in Tallahassee, Fla. on May 30-31. She has also qualified to compete in both the heptathlon and the high jump at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships at Princeton on May 16-18.
The girls have rarely been separated in their 22 years together. Despite looking at different colleges - Lafayette was the only one the girls looked at together - both ended up coming to Easton to compete for the Leopards. The two have different primary majors (Kristen's first major is International Affairs) but they share a second French major and the two traveled abroad to France for a semester their sophomore year. After living next door to each other their junior year, the twins have paired up again to live together along with a third teammate in an off-campus house for their senior year.
Kristen and Leigh were apart for the majority of last summer, the longest they have gone without seeing each other, when Leigh went out to Colorado to join her husband, Ian, who is a medic in the Army. Leigh and Ian were on the high school track and field team and have been together ever since. The couple married in December 2006 after Ian returned from his second deployment to Iraq.
"He proposed at a track on post," Leigh said. "He was going to do it on a soccer field but he figured he would look like an idiot playing soccer with me. He wanted to do it while we were doing something I love doing and it was even better because it is how we got together."
Leigh will return to Colorado after graduation to be with Ian, but plans to move back to New York at the end of the summer when Ian leaves for his third tour in Iraq.
"It's definitely going to be different and we will call each other a lot more often," Kristen says of the girls' separation. "It's going to be hard because it's just the closest person to you. I know people always go on and on about the `special twin relationship' but it does exist. She doesn't have to say anything and I know what's going on."
It is likely that the Kalinowskis will be spending more time apart after graduation. Kristen is looking to get involved in humanitarian work or project management with non-profits, while Leigh is exploring careers that allow her to move frequently with the Army.
"I'm trying to figure out what kind of job I can have that will let me move around," Leigh said. "It's hard to figure out a career instead of just a job."
Whatever their post-graduate plans may be, Kristen is sure it will include some sort of competition.
"I have been an athlete since I was five years old," she said. "I've been running track for 11 years. It's a part of me."
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