Today, as we begin our stretch drive of coverage, capping another season of high school and university sports coverage here at Varsity Letters, we begin an informal series of stories which the author feels best encapsulate the spirit of B.C.s community of student-athletes.
LANGLEY — They have, in a manner of speaking, always known what it’s like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.
Yet even with the exaggerated pace at which identical twins Zach and Tate Wyatt seemed to first hit the ground, literally from the moment they stopped crawling, neither would have dared predict the velocity at which each has transitioned from high school middle-distance running careers just now in the rearview mirror, to university careers seemingly just a series of hard repeats ahead in the distance.
“In all honesty, we didn’t know a lot about track,” admits Tate, a half-hour older than Zach, both of whom this month walk the halls of Langley’s R.E. Mountain Secondary for the final time. “We were just running track and cross-country to supplement our soccer, to be quicker on the pitch. We didn’t know anything about track clubs. We didn’t think this was actually a sport for us. And that’s about as far as our plans for the future went.”
But then came the successes. One on top of the other.
B.C. high school titles, as well as provincial club championship titles in any number of specialties from both the trails and the middle-distance canon.
Record-setting times, dual podium finishes, and later, national-championship victories.
In fact it was only earlier this month, at Langley’s McLeod Athletic Park, that Zach set a new B.C. high school championship meet record in the 2,000m steeplechase (5:49.53), breaking a mark that had been set in 1991 by New Westminster’s Jeff Schiebler (5:50.25), who would later represent Canada at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.
He was second at 5:51.30, a time which would have been good enough to win gold in 32 of the 34 years the distance has been contested at the provincial high school meet.
Yet perhaps even more impressive than all of that is the way in which the very act of running itself has revealed, through its myriad of nuances, everything that is rare and special about the bond shared between these two brothers 17-year-old brothers.
A LANGUAGE ALL THEIR OWN
Imagine not only being the fastest runner, but having a virtual double with whom to train against.
“They have said that they realize that to be able to train with one of your main competitors is just such an advantage, and they know it is a very unique situation,” says their mom Debbie Wyatt, who more than anyone feels the lock-step connection the boys share when they enter a race.
“And it is a unique situation,” she re-confirms. “They are the exact same build, height (6-0) and weight (160 pounds). They have the exact same diet. They generally run stride for stride.”
Yet as we hinted at earlier, the more you learn about their back story, the more clearly you see how, of any sport the twins could have picked to compete in, that this is the one in which the bond of their brotherhood is so clearly revealed for all to see.
It’s substantial in the ways in which they instinctively run for each other, re-calibrating, at various points, the other’s diminishing tempo with metronomic precision by picking up the pace.
And you could say that their bond is celebrated in those magical moments at the end of a race, when their shared respect for each other’s individuality allows both the opportunity to ‘kick the other’s ass’ in an unbridled, no harm-no foul kind of way.
Take that 2,000m B.C. high school steeplechase final as a prime example.
What we didn’t tell you, was that Tate had led virtually the entire race.
“As great as it to win, I was really happy when we crossed the finish line because it felt great to finish one-two with my brother,” Tate says. “Leading him to the record felt amazing.”
Those are words well spoken.
Yet ask the brothers about how verbal they actually get before races, and you realize that words are not really necessary.
“In our best races, we have said nothing beforehand,” confirms Zach. “If the person in front slows down or gets more tired, the guy behind takes up that lead spot and we just keep pushing each other through the entire race.”
Adds mom Debbie: “They know each other’s limits. Their coaches don’t need to give them any race strategy. Instinctively, they know what to do. But when the finish line is in sight for those last 100 metres or so, it is a sprint, and anyone’s guess as to who will cross the line first.”
HANGING UP THEIR HORNS
Beginning this coming fall, both Tate and Zach Wyatt won’t just be rookies on the cross-country team at the University of Memphis.
The honour roll students will also be taking their first steps together as budding physics majors at the school.
“When we were in Memphis, we got to meet with the head of the physics department,” Tate explains of their official recruiting visit. “Despite what anyone will say, (athletics and academics) tie in together. You can’t be a student-athlete without being a student first.”
After all, this whole running thing didn’t really take shape until the twins, coached by Mountain’s Debbi McKinnon, entered the junior varsity division of the 2015 B.C. high school cross-country championships as 10th graders, where they surprised themselves with Zach’s fourth-place finish and Tate’s sixth-place finish.
“I’ve always loved science because I am a curious person,” begins Tate of discovering physics as part of his Science 10 course at Mountain over that same 2015-16 school year. “Figuring out how everything in the world works, from the smallest atom to the largest animal was something very interesting to both of us. Plus, when you have a super-passionate teacher (Darcy Carroll) it makes it that much more enjoyable.”
By the fall of 2016, as Grade 11s, the Wyatts had joined the Langley Mustangs club team and under the tutelage of coach Dave Hetherington, had entered their first senior varsity B.C. cross-country championship meet. This time around, Tate finished 12th and Zach 18th.
Of course it was all a prelude to their senior year.
Finally, the brothers has made running their sole focus.
After a summer in which Zach placed first (6:02.38) and Tate second (6:02.72) in the 2,000m steeplechase at Canadian Legion national age-group championships in Manitoba, they had begun school in the fall having stepped away from their positions along the back as defenders with the Surrey United gold division soccer team.
As well, due to the demands of their running careers, each decided reluctantly to step away from their trumpeting careers with the Mountain Eagles’ concert band.
Yet on a snowy day in early November, on Vancouver’s scenic Jericho Park course, that sacrifice and their shared focus shone through.
Zach won the B.C. high school cross-country title, navigating three loops of the 2.3-K course in a time of 23 minutes and 17 seconds, one second ahead of Tate who took silver in a time of 23:18.
Mountain’s boys, as a team, finished second, just behind Victoria’s champion Oak Bay Bays.
And then came last month’s B.C. high school track and field championships.
The Wyatts not only finished one-two in the record-setting 2,000m steeplechase, Tate took third and Zach fourth in the 3,000m final, a race in which fatigue from the steeplechase had a definite carry-over effect for the brothers.
Additionally, the Wyatts joined forces with the B.C. meet’s 800m champ Jordan Schmidt, an SFU Clan recruit,, and junior varsity sprinter/hurdler Felix Allen, to not only win the meet’s signature finale 4x400m relay (3:26.96), but to carry the tiny R.E. Mountain team to the senior boys overall AAA title.
EVEN THEIR BRUISES MATCHED
Amazing, isn’t it, how two brothers who for so long never thought of running as anything more than a healthy, supplementary activity so quickly found their path and their passion, albeit extremely late when held up for comparison against the standard delivery model.
Yet it’s what we’ve been preaching for the last 15 years, that the merits of the multi-sport model never fail, providing in the verbiage of the sport in question, the kind of fool-proof pace rabbit that even identical twins could set their race watches by.
For mom Debbie Wyatt, thinking back to the day her sons were born, premature but ready to battle, there will always be that momentary second of the incredulous.
“Tate (3 pounds, 5 ounces) was the one who was really itching to see the world, and he was born as soon as we arrived at the hospital,” says Debbie of she and husband Dave on that July day in 2000. “Zach (3 pounds, 12 ounces) was not interested in seeing the world yet, but Tate made the decision for both of them and once he arrived there was no turning back.
“Looking at them now,” Debbie adds, “no one would imagine how tiny and fragile they were as newborns.”
Yet as quickly as they’ve had to grasp their new identities as budding blue-chip middle distance collegians, the brothers have known for the last two years that they loved running enough to want to continue running after high school.
They initially seemed resigned to fact, however, that it was likely something they were going to have to do at separate schools. And they were OK with that.
Yet when the calls started to come from post-secondary coaches, like Memphis’ cross-country and distance coach Ken Frenette last July 1, it became obvious very quickly that all concerned were interested in both.
“Previously, I was going to stay home, study and not even focus on track, but now, it’s kind of taken over my life,” Tate says. “If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be going to a top school (as a runner) I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s all happened so quickly and this year was just a huge step forward.”
Perspective, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
On one hand, you can’t help but feel kismet was at work, fatefully sifting away all that became extraneous along the journey to reveal a pair of runners with sleeping-giant level gifts.
On the other hand, the clues were everywhere if you just listened to a mom telling stories about what it was like raising her two boys.
“As toddlers, they never walked anywhere, they ran” Debbie Wyatt says, recalling that a neighbour who would sit on his driveway and watch them with a phone and first aid kit at the ready. “Everything they did was at full speed, as fast as they could go. Invariably they would chase after each other. They would run around corners right into each other.”
And like any concerned mom, she’d huddle with both, running her hands through their hair, checking for signs of damage.
“They always seemed to have matching, mirror-image bruises on their heads,” she remembers.
Needless to say, things have been a lot different ever since Zach and Tate Wyatt started running together, and in the same direction.
To honour the tenets of the old cliché, they understand deeply what it means to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.
And it’s because of that brotherly bond that one will always be there to help the other.
Unless of course, we’re talking about a race that has reached its stretch drive.
At that point, having helped deliver each other to that place where victory is ripe for the picking, they can respectfully say ‘May the best man win!’
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