Nov. 7, 2007
Sisters find fulfillment on their own with the cross country programs at LMU and UC Irvine. Both will run in Saturday's NCAA West Regional.
By Chris Jackson
The Daily Breeze
The college experience can be as much about establishing one's identity as it is about getting an education.
It's an even harder task when there's someone around who looks, sounds and acts just like you.
This was the case for identical twin sisters Laura and Sara Mickelson from the moment they jumped from Mira Costa High to Loyola Marymount University.
Competing in cross country and track for the Lions, they made for a formidable duo, but both had trouble escaping the other's shadow.
After their sophomore year, Sara decided to transfer to UC Irvine. Both sisters agree that it was the best move for them both in sports and in life.
"That's definitely one of the reasons I wanted to transfer," Sara said. "We were seen as identical twins; everyone saw us as the Mickelson twins, not as Sara and Laura. When I went to Irvine, I established myself.
"I think it's helped me grow up. We might be even closer now, because being apart we appreciate each other a little bit more than we used to. I don't think we lost anything from being apart. She's been able to grow on the LMU team and I've been able to grow here."
"I've become so much more independent," Laura said. "I've been able to make my mark so much stronger. I've had more of an influence than if we'd been together. No one looked at us as individuals.
"We've both grown as runners and as people. We've gotten further in development being separate."
The sisters will be together again on Saturday for the NCAA West Regional in Eugene, Ore., which could mark the end of their respective careers as far as cross country goes.
"Of course our goal is to be really competitive runners with each other," Laura said. "It is a twin kind of thing. When you're twins, you compete in everything.
"It's going to be a special race. My mom and stepdad are going to be there. I know they're going to be nervous for us, and we'll be nervous, too. We're both proud of each other."
Laura finished second at the West Coast Conference Championships on Oct. 27, leading LMU to a third-place finish. Sara was 12th at the Big West Championships that same day, while UC Irvine also came in third.
"After conference, I was kind of sad because it was my last conference race," Sara said. "I'm pretty fired up this week, because I know there's a good chance we can show how hard we worked all season. I'm half sad, half excited about this race."
For Laura, it's been even more "nerve-wracking." She is trying to finish high enough to earn her second straight trip to the NCAA Championships, where she finished 50th last season, helping her earn the LMU Female Student-Athlete of the Year award for the second season in a row.
"Obviously, I want this more than anything I've ever done in running," Laura said. "This is the biggest thing that I'm going for. We'll see what happens."
Sara said she expects her sister to earn another trip to the championships.
"I know she's going to have a good race," Sara said. "She deserves to go to nationals if she has a good race.
"We used to race side-by-side a lot. Now it's hard to find her in races. It's a little different, but it's still fun going out there. It makes it a little more special racing against her because we're not racing together every weekend."
Both sisters have embraced leadership roles as seniors on their respective teams.
Laura has been the Lions' leader-by-example for some time, but this year she said she's become more vocal.
"Coming in, I've always been a leader by example as far as just working hard, being dedicated to everything I do, and I think people see that and what comes from that," Laura said. "Obviously this year, since I was a senior, I did step up and vocalize things.
"I was able to put my mark on this team. Knowing that, I don't take it lightly. As we get better runners each year, they'll just follow in the footsteps I've left behind."
Sara said she stayed quiet as a junior in her first season with the Anteaters, and now she's one of several seniors and juniors who lead the squad.
"I've definitely stepped it up and being more of a leader," Sara said. "We don't have designated captains, but I feel like I've stepped up and taken on a leadership role through both my actions and my words. I'm a pretty hard worker and I think people see that."
At this point in the season, Laura said she's become more reflective on her past and just how far she has come in her four years at LMU.
"I can tell you now that, coming into college, I never felt I would have gotten this far," Laura said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have felt I could have made nationals in anything. Coming into college, I didn't feel like I'd be a major contributor on the team.
"I've accomplished a lot in four years. If I don't make it to nationals, it won't be the end of the world. But I've never had more fun in cross country than this year."
The NCAA West Regional will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.