By Ardyn Ford
Photos by Shane Marshall
More than 98 percent of the world’s population can only dream about what it would be like to live with a twin by their side, let alone what it would be like to spend every waking moment with that person. For Highland High juniors Eva Gontrum and Zoe Phillips, this is their reality.
They wake up at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday to go to early morning swim practice, then they head to Highland where together they attend the rigorous class schedule that the International Baccalaureate program brings. Next, they go to afternoon swim practice, and finally head home to work on all of their homework.
Aside from that arduous daily routine, they spend the rest of their time together at swim meets, doing dry-land workouts and with their friends–most of whom are fellow swimmers.
Because of the competitive level at which they swim, the twins put 20 hours or more per week into their sport. This schedule stays consistent for the majority of the year, peaking during the high school and summer seasons.
“Sometimes (having a twin) is really awesome because I have someone who will get up at five in the morning to swim with me and push me to do better,” Phillips said. “But sometimes it really sucks because I have to race her, and we never get a break from being around each other.”
The two have been in the pool together since they were five months old. Their mom was a competitive swimmer in college and wanted to start them young. Since then, Phillips and Gontrum have been pushing each other to work hard both in the water and in the classroom.
“I don’t think I would have gotten this far if I hadn’t had a twin because every morning I have to get up and go or else she’s there and she’s beating me,” Gontrum said.
Mom and dad must have known that the twins would need a break from one another. Although strangers cannot tell the two apart, they go by different last names – something that confuses everyone from race officials to fans. Both parents wanted their respective last names to live on with their children. so Phillips was given her father’s name, while Gontrum owns that of her mother.
Both names are synonymous with greatness, no matter which twin is chosen. It is a question the two often answer to the point where they grew tired of giving the real answer, which led to elaborate stories.
Their favorite is to tell people that they were separated at birth and found one another again because of swimming competitively. And now they find themselves together every morning, all day long, and into the evening.
“We used to tell people we found each other swimming because we looked exactly the same and tied in every race,” Phillips said. “But it’s just because our parents wanted to keep our last names. I’m Gontrum-Phillips and (Eva) is Phillips-Gontrum, we have both the names.”
The duo began swimming competitively at eight years old, and since then both have continuously demonstrated a drive to succeed. Both have incredible versatility and are strong competitors in every event.
During bigger meets like the state meet and Western Sectionals, however, they compete only in their specialty events: the 500- and 200-yard freestyle for Gontrum and the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke for Phillips. Last year, Phillips finished .82 seconds away from the state record in the 200 IM, and she is determined to break the record this year.
Since starting high school competition, both have placed either first or second in the state in their events and they are looking to continue this trend until they graduate. Both girls have their sights set on swimming in college, but they aren’t currently planning on continuing past that.
“To swim after college, you have to be the top two in the country, which is impossible,” Phillips said.
With the amount of success Gontrum and Phillips have had so far, however, the national team might not be as impossible as it appears. That being said, the two are very enthusiastic about academics – both own cumulative 4.0 GPAs with transcripts littered with IB, AP, and honors courses – and don’t want swimming to interfere.
“We want to swim in college, but Division 1 is really intense and it’s hard to go into something like the medical field because you are swimming six hours a day,” Gontrum said.
Because they are together nearly every minute of the day, they hope to attend different colleges so that they can get a break from the competitive energy that currently exists between them. While it can be a great motivator for success, it also creates a lot of emotional tension.
“It’s really competitive, and it’s not always healthy because sometimes we get really angry,” Phillips said. “It’s less so for school because in that way we are very similar, but in swimming we are different.”
Despite these differences, both girls are incredibly passionate about the sport and love the work ethic, exercise and social opportunity it brings. They have met many of their closest friends through swimming, something for which they are grateful, though they both wish they had more time to get to know people outside of the swim team.
The time commitment required for swimming combined with the time commitment that their ambitious academic course load brings mean they have little time for anything else, sleep especially. Because of this Gontrum and Phillips have to plan out almost every minute of their week in advance, including outfits, meals, snacks, etc. There is no time to waste on even idly looking into the fridge and deciding on what to eat.
“I think it’s easier actually,” Gontrum said. “You know how much time you have to get stuff done.”
Not many can thrive with a schedule this full, but these twins are obviously the exception to many expectations. Extremely talented both physically and intellectually and blessed with one another to lean on or race against, it is not hard to see that they will both excel in anything they decide to do.