Many college teams have a “face of the program.” It is rarer for a team to have two athletes that are legitimate “faces of the program.”
It is rarer still for these athletes to share the same face.
Nonetheless, this is the situation that the Penn women’s cross country team finds itself in with freshman phenoms — and identical twin sisters — Cleo and Clarissa Whiting.
The Whiting sisters have taken Penn Athletics — and the rest of the Ivy League — by storm, consistently finishing amongst Penn’s top runners while also taking the top two team spots in the all-important Heptagonal Championships. Cleo even snagged a spot at Nationals last week.
The twins have also displayed strong work ethics throughout the season, attitudes instilled in them since their youths.
“We started dancing classical ballet when we were four,” Clarissa said. “So we were pretty used to discipline.”
Cross country was a natural fit for the hard-working pair.
“We were always individuals as a unit anyway, and we had always been a little different from the girls who played volleyball or basketball,” Cleo said.
“At a cross country meet, there was always a lot of camaraderie, which made it a favorite quickly.”
Both of them took responsibility for their running success from the very beginning.
“We learned from a very young age that how good you are is directly affected by how much you put into it,” Clarissa said.
They also learned that they were valuable resources in each other’s progress, and they quickly began to rely on each other as training partners.
“I was born with the perfect training partner,” Cleo said. “Having Clarissa was like having my better self.”
“I wouldn’t be half as good as I am now without Cleo,” Clarissa added. “We really pushed each other, and there were definitely days where I was like, ‘Come on, Cleo. Let’s go!’”
But the twins always had goals beyond high school success at Delta High School in Colorado.
“I just couldn’t imagine my life without it. We knew that we wanted to run in college,” Cleo said. “We had a lot of people who believed in us. We just had to keep working.”
Of course, the two enjoyed some friendly competition, but their goals were always unified.
“Yeah, it mattered who won, but most of our races are nearly identical,” Clarissa said.
“The competition is always there, but we always love each other no matter what at the end of the day,” Cleo added. “Having somebody that completely understands you … I feel really lucky to have that.”
College offered an opportunity for the two to individualize, but when it came down to deciding where to attend school, the two stuck together, choosing Penn over Washington.
“Penn worked for both of us. Even though we have different schedules and we have individualized a little bit, that support is something that couldn’t have translated over 2,000 miles,” Clarissa said.
In high school meets, they became accustomed to running together out ahead of the pack, but they have embraced the increased competition of college meets with open arms.
“I love being a freshman again,” Clarissa said. “I’m grateful for the competition.”
“It’s been really fun to see such great talent, and it just makes you more ambitious to be one of the girls out in front,” Cleo added.
The sisters may be motivated by the opportunities in front of them, but they are also motivated by their past.
“We weren’t recruited that much out of high school,” Clarissa said.
“It’s a Penn thing to be the underdog,” Cleo added. “I trained thinking I was going to be one of the slowest on the team.”
That wasn’t the case. The twins are now in a position to lead a young and talented women’s squad into the future.
And as always, they are in it together.
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