Gabby and Jessie Skopec of Iowa City West not only share a birthday, they have also shared their love and experiences in running their entire lives. As college approaches, the two have decided to take separate paths for their collegiate academics and athletics. Gabby has signed with the University of Northern Iowa, while Jessie has signed with the University of South Dakota. Both Jessie and Gabby will be running cross country and track, for the first time ever on separate teams. Continue reading below for an interview with the Skopec twins about their decisions, traditions, goals, and more.
How did you get started in cross country and track?
Gabby: "I started running cross country and track in seventh grade. I had to do a sport when I got there and because my family liked running I decided to give it a try.
Jessie: "I got started in cross country and track because of my dad. He did cross country and track in high school, and he also ran at UNI. When we were little my dad would do a lot of road races, and he would sign me and my siblings up for the fun runs. My passion for running took off in 3rd grade when I did Girls on the Run with my sisters. When we weren't doing Girls on the Run, Gabby and I would occasionally do road races. That lead us to junior high when we joined the cross country and track teams, which we've been a part of ever since."
What do you love most about running?
G: "The thing I love most about running is that I can go out and just have that time to myself for awhile. At the same time I can go out and run with people in my family or my friends and it's a really fun thing to do together."
J: "This is a hard question for me because there are so many things I love about running. I love that size, coordination, and talent doesn't matter, only hard work. I love that it can be done basically anytime and anywhere. I love that you get out of it what you put into it. I love sharing it with my family. But what I love most is my teammates. The people I've met through cross country and track are some of the toughest, hardest working, smartest, and most kindhearted people I know. They are what makes me want to go to practice everyday, even if we have mile repeats. There are few things better than running with my best friends everyday."
What is your favorite race to compete in?
G: "My favorite race is definitely the 5k in cross country. I love the longer distances and I also enjoy that cross country is a more difficult due to the hills and mud."
J: "My favorite race to compete in is the Rim Rock Farm Classic. This is a meet that is held in Lawrence, Kansas that we go to nearly every year. Rim Rock is a beautiful cross country course, and by far my favorite one to race on. It's a challenging course, but cross country wouldn't be cross country without some hills. I also love being able to drive to Kansas with my team. Just the varsity team goes to this meet, but it is a good time for us to bond and get closer before we enter the 'championship phase' of the season. Also, my older sister Emmie runs at KU, so it is great getting to see her when we go there."
Do you have any team or family running traditions?
G: "On our track team if you are on a relay, before the race everyone on the relay team will kiss the baton. In our family we usually like to do a race on the Fourth of July, like this year we entered the Butte to Butte 10k while we were in Oregon for the fourth. Our dad actually entered us as a co-ed team and we won the team competition, which was really funny when we found out because we were not expecting that at all."
J: "One of my favorite traditions that my team has is the potluck we have before our home meet. We all invite our families, bring food, and most importantly, we recognize the seniors. A couple days before the pot luck each girl on the team is given a senior, and then they make a memory box for that senior. The box is decorated specifically for the senior, and then the team writes letters for all the seniors to put in their boxes. The boxes are special because it is something that the seniors can keep and look back at years later. My family doesn't have too many running traditions, but we do the occasional road race together. This summer we did a race in Oregon on the 4th of July, and we entered as team "Slowpec". My whole family competed except my mom, who was the team cheerleader. We ended up winning the team competition, which was pretty cool. My favorite team tradition isn't really a tradition at all, but some of us have been doing it the past four years I've been here. When we are running we like to play a game called Shiner, where we yell "shiner" anytime we see a yellow car (it can't be a cab, bus, truck, or company vehicle). Usually a couple of us will call the same one and then fight over who said it first. I even remember calling a shiner during a 400 workout. When I'm at USD next year I know I will think of them when I see a shiner."
What has it been like to compete on the same team as your twin sister?
G: "Since it's all I've ever known I don't know how it compares to how it would be otherwise. It's nice to have someone who I know is going to be there for me. I also like having someone to talk to on the way home from practice, it's a little thing but it's nice to talk to someone who gets it because they are doing the same thing you are."
J: "I've enjoyed being on the same team as Gabby. A lot of people will ask us if we are competitive with each other, but I don't think we are anymore competitive with each other than anyone else. That might be because we've never been at the same level as each other, either I've been faster or she's been faster (which is usually the case). We've never had a season where we alternate who beats who. The great thing about being on a team with Gabby is that we get to share our passion for running together. We go through the same things at practice everyday, and then we can go home and talk about it together. If one of us had a bad workout or race, the other one is always there to support them. All in all, being on the team as Gabby has been great, because I get to share some of my favorite memories with her."
What schools were you considering for college? How did you pick UNI?
G: "I was considering Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas and UNI. I ended up choosing UNI for a lot reasons. One big one is because it's a nice distance from home. Also, I like the size of the school because it's in the middle, not too big or small. And when I went on my visit there I just really liked the atmosphere, the coaches and team were really nice and I could just see myself being a part of the program."
J: "Along with USD, I was considering Luther and Drake. There are two big reasons why I picked USD. The first is that it was the perfect fit for me academically. USD has a medical school, which is important to me because I plan to major in nursing. It is also small enough that I will be able to know my professors well. The second reason is that when I visited USD, I fell in love with the team and the coaching staff. Everyone was so welcoming, and I loved that the team was so close they were basically one big family. I knew this was a team I would love to be part of. I wanted to go to a school where I knew I would be happy, with or without running, so USD was the right pick for me."
Are you nervous to be away from your sister?
G: "I was very nervous to be away from my older sister, Emmie, last year who is at the University of Kansas. That ended up going ok so I think it will be ok for my and Jessie too. I think it will be pretty different since we've been together for all of our lives. At the same time I think it will be nice to be able to find ourselves as individuals and experience that time apart."
J: "I'm not too nervous about being away from my sister. I will miss her, but I also think it will be good for us to be apart. These past couple of years have been great being on the same team, but it's also meant we've had to share many aspects of our lives. We share teammates, friends, coaches, classes, which isn't necessarily bad, but college will be a good chance for us to create our own path. I'm very excited though to see what she will accomplish at UNI."
What are you hoping to accomplish in your final high school track season?
G: "In my final season of track I am hoping to bring home a team state title as well as individually winning at least one state title. I would also like to get one of the coveted flags at the Drake relays. Time wise I would like to break 10:00 in the 3000 and 4:45 in the 1500. I would also like to beat my PR in the 400 meters, JV 4X4 here I come."
J: "This cross country season I was dealing with compartment syndrome, and a couple of weeks ago I got surgery to help that. So for me, my main track season goal is to be able to get back to the runner I was, hopefully better. If I can get back to running in January or early February, I think I can do that. I hope to be racing once the outdoor season rolls around. I want to compete on our State 4x8 this year, and I would also love to run at the Drake Relays. Of course I would love to the win the team title too."
What are you most excited about for college/collegiate athletics?
G: "I'm excited to have really great
competition at every meet that we go to. I'm also excited to be able to travel
to lots of different places to compete and to make some great friends with my
J: "I can't wait to be part of the team at USD. As I said before, the team and coaches are great, and I know I will love being a part of it. Since I'll be away from home, the team really will become my family. I'm also excited for the opportunity to grow as a runner, and hopefully improve in all different aspects. Lastly, I'm excited that my teammate Leah Dusterhoft is also going to USD, and I get to be teammates with her for another four years."
What are you most nervous about?
G: "I'm nervous about how good everyone is at the collegiate level- teammates and competition, but I'm also excited for that."
J: "I'm most nervous about balancing my schoolwork with my athletics. I've heard from many people that college is a big step, both academically and athletically, so I hope that I will be able to manage it well. Another thing I love about USD though, is that they have a great program to ensure their athletes are getting a certain amount of study time in library, so I know I will be in good hands."
What are your hopes for your collegiate running career?
haven't thought too much about my collegiate goals yet. I would say I would
like to qualify for the national meet in track and cross country at least once.
I would also like to just become a better runner in general."
J: "The biggest thing I want to achieve in my collegiate career is improvement. I obviously want to achieve individual success, but that starts with me improving first. Collegiate running is a whole new level, and I won't start off running varsity like I did in high school. I hope to work my way to that point, one day, but until then I just want to get everything out of myself that I can."