Stanford twins Jim and Joe Rosa have a sibling rivalry. Both qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships this week, and neither will give an inch on who the better runner is.
Growing up, the Rosa brothers were so competitive, fist fights were common. They were usually over trivial things and seldom lasted long.
"My older brother kind of inspired the competitiveness in us," Jim said of Larry, who swam at Rutgers. "He was always pushing us around and making us tougher. Joe and I would always fight to get his approval. I guess we wanted to be seen as the cooler brother. I don't think we ever finished a one-on-one basketball game without fighting and the ball being thrown down the street."
Two of the top distance runners in the country, the Stanford juniors have hopes of placing high at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., which run Wednesday through Saturday. They still argue, but have also emerged as team leaders for Cardinal head coach Chris Miltenberg.
"They've got a lot of personality and have made coming to practice every day fun," Miltenberg said. "They've embraced the mission we're on here and are the driving force behind the progress we're making."
The twins were highly decorated runners at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High in New Jersey. Jim, who is 20 minutes older, won three New Jersey Meet of Champion titles. He also ranked No. 4 on the all-time state list in the two-mile at 8:51.46, and No. 3 in the mile at 4:07.70.
Joe set a New Jersey state record for the two-mile with a time of 8:44.06, as he and Jim finished one-two in the New Balance Nationals. Joe also excelled in cross country, establishing course records in a 5K race at Holmdel Park with a time of 14:56 while winning the 2009 New Jersey Meet of Champions, and set the 2.5-mile course record at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx with a time of 12:03.8.
As a senior, Joe was on pace to break his two-mile record in the state meet and had one lap remaining when officials stopped the race due to lightning. He wasn't pleased.
"I get to a lap to go and see an entire wall of officials saying, 'Stop running! Stop running!' '' said Joe. "Jim and I were both pretty angry, but obviously we cooled off. At this point, it's kind of cool because it's a funny story. I probably got more attention for that than if I had broken my own record."
After arriving on The Farm in 2012, both expected immediate success in cross country and track. When it didn't happen, they were frustrated and Jim considered quitting.
"I was running terribly and wasn't really into the sport," he said. "It wasn't a big part of my life. And then coach Miltenberg came in and there were some changes, which was a wakeup call for me. Since then, I've been more dedicated to it. I've seen huge success and am way better than I ever was before."
Miltenberg credits the twins for changing their habits and re-committing to running.
"In high school, they trained really hard when they were training," said Miltenberg. "They weren't in tune with the other 22 hours of the day or the things they needed to be doing."
Like rest, nutrition and weight training. Jim is 10 pounds heavier than Joe and adds, "I like to say it's all muscle."
Naturally, Joe has a different opinion.
"Obviously, I disagree," he said. "I like to let my performance in the weight room talk for itself. It's not very impressive, but it's better than Jim's."
Somehow, teammate and roommate Erik Olson keeps the peace.
"They're both pretty unique," said Olson, a redshirt junior from Novato. "They're easy to tell apart just based on how they talk and act. A lot of times when you are dealing with athletes who are twins, you kind of assume they're the same type of people and lead the same lives. I've definitely learned that's not the case."
Olson said Joe is a little louder and more outgoing. Although he has never seen a physical altercation between the two, there is seldom a dull moment in the apartment. Recently, they had a shouting match from different rooms.
"Their fights are interesting," Olson said. "It's more like them just talking to each other in annoying voices. It is kind of amusing. I kind of take the middle ground and make light of the situation."
In high school, it wasn't uncommon for Jim and Joe to argue during a race.
"Just like a bickering match," said Olson said.
Jim insisted he and Joe have grown up a lot at Stanford, and added, "We have gotten into arguments over the stupidest stuff. People just look at us like we're idiots. So we eventually get embarrassed and just stop."
While it pains them to admit it, they like the same food, often wear similar clothes -- purely by coincidence -- and enjoy the same movies, especially Batman and Harry Potter.
"Sometimes we wear the same shirt and say, 'OK, someone has to change,' '' said Joe.
The only reason they live together is because they share a car.
"If it's just me, we don't say anything to each other," Jim said. "We're so similar and do so much of the same stuff, there's really nothing to talk about."
They often tell Olson the same stories -- separately.
"Joe will tell me a joke or something he thinks is funny and I'll laugh about it," said Olson. "Five minutes later, Jim will walk in and say something pretty verbatim. There's got to be some sort of connection there."
"We've never described each other as best friends or anything like that, but we get along pretty well," Joe said. "We both have pretty thick skin. In the end, we always support each other."
Jim is majoring in science, technology and society, while Joe is majoring in management, science and engineering. Both are pranksters at heart.
"I had an idea for Christmas to do a secret Santa, but give everyone single one of the freshman my name," said Joe. "I sent out an email that this is our long-standing tradition and I'll email you the person you have. Jim took some of them shopping for me and asked me what I wanted. Then the day came and they all had me. Everyone was very confused."
Both enjoy cross country more than track.
"It's way more of a team sport," Jim said. "It's boring running in circles for a really long time."
Jim will run the 5,000 meters (Friday) and Joe the 10,000 (Wednesday) in Eugene. Joe's top finish in NCAA competition was fifth in the indoor championships this season, while Jim placed fifth last fall in the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Each earned All-America honors.
"Sometimes with twins, they put themselves in a certain pecking order," said Miltenberg. "This one's the better student, this one's the better athlete. But you won't hear either one of them say that when it comes to their running. They both think they're the better one. Neither of them settles and they keep making each other better."
While Jim and Joe haven't reached the level of former Cardinal greats Brad and Brent Hauser, considered two of the greatest brother combinations in U.S. distance running history, they continue to improve.
"I think we're just starting to scratch the surface this year," Miltenberg said. "We're just starting to see what they are capable of."
Stanford's NCAA Championships qualifiers:
Michael Atchoo, 1,500
Darian Brooks, triple jump
Dylan Duvio, pole vault
Luke Lefebure, 800
Jim Rosa, 10,000
Joe Rosa, 5,000
Lucas Rowley, hammer
Valarie Allman, discus
Brianna Bain, javelin
Aisling Cuffe, 5,000
Rebecca Mehra, 1,500
Claudia Saunders, 800
Jessica Tonn, 5,000
Amy Weissenbach, 800
This story contains 1373 words.
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