It seems athletes David and Michael Belcher, juniors at La Cañada High, are always following one another. The identical twins are separated in age by just one minute, and when they race they don’t usually finish far apart.
More than once, the two triathletes have finished a race with times less than a second apart.
“Those are our favorite races, where we are literally right together at the finish,” David said.
The brothers are both nationally ranked in the top-15 of their 15-and-under male division by USA Triathlon. David is ranked ninth and Michael 15th. They were both named Honorable Mention All-Americans by USA Triathlon on Aug. 20.
"[Being named an All-American] feels great, it feels like a big boost, a reward after all our hard work, training all the hours and gallons of sweat we put in. It feels like a big accomplishment,” David said.
David and Michael have won more than 100 medals between them. However, both agree that earning the All-American label is the highlight of their short two-and-half-year triathlete careers.
The twins’ shared goal now is to qualify for the 2013 Pan American games, when they will be 19.
Though they’re usually neck-and-neck while competing, sibling rivalry proves to be a nonfactor for the twins come the day of a race.
“We are more training partners,” David said. “I love sharing the podium with Michael. Sure, we push each other, but not in a competitive way. We try to work together.”
Training never ends for the two because an off season doesn’t exist for triathletes. In between races, the Belcher twins are running, biking or swimming to stay in shape.
David and Michael compete in about 25 races each year. The longest stretch they take off from competing is about three weeks, from the end of December to the middle of January, when there are few events scheduled.
While not actually racing or training for a triathlon, the twins dip into other sports such as cross-country and swimming, sports that they say help keep them sharp.
But the most appealing aspect of being a triathlete is the mental challenge, as well as the diversity of events, the Belchers agree.
“Anyone can be a great runner if that’s all they’re doing, but to really be a triathlete, you have to mentally prepare yourself to swim, then bike and then run, even when your legs are tired,” David said. “You just have to balance it all out and that’s what I really think separates triathlons from all these other sports.”
Michael said another draw is how independently driven triathletes needed to be.
“In baseball you have a coach yelling at you, trying to push you, but out there there’s nothing anyone can say to you in the middle of a triathlon that will make you go faster,” Michael said. “You have to have that inside yourself.”
The brothers aren’t the only members of their family who have become interested in competing in triathlons. The tug of the sport has reeled in David and Michael’s dad, John Belcher.
An attorney during the week and triathlete come Saturday and Sunday, John has been competing with his sons for just over a year and a half.
“I was just the official bike carrier for about five months, and then I decided I wanted to share the experience with them,” John said. “I figured if you’re going to haul two bikes, you might as well haul three.”
It took John about five months to increase his endurance to the point where he could safely finish a triathlon. John has competed in 26 of his sons’ 67 races and he still feels young when looks around at the other competitors.
“You don’t meet a lot of 54-year old guys playing baseball, but it’s not at all uncommon to see triathletes ages 11, 60 or 70,” John said. “It’s a very unusual sport in that the participation is growing, but it can be a lifestyle sport that people do over a steady period of time.”
Competing next to senior citizens at triathlons has inspired Michael as well.
“I want [triathlons] to be a healthy lifestyle for me,” Michael said. “I want to be the fastest 90-year old athlete ever. I don’t want to do it for the next two or three years, I want to do it for the next 50 years.”