By Marty Farmer
Mary and Hanna Blankemeier couldn't be more different in terms of their personalities. Mary is outgoing, vivacious and loves being the center of attention, while Hanna is introspective, demure and functions best behind the scenes. The tempo of Mary's life is a spirited presto, while Hanna navigates each day at the steady pace of an andante.
While the Blankemeier girls may seem like polar opposites, they share an unyielding desire to excel athletically.
The precocious twins have taken the Oak Park and River Forest High School sports scene by storm this fall. As 14-year-old freshmen, Mary recently notched a fifth-place finish at the IHSA Class 3A state cross-country meet in Peoria. She clocked a time of 17:07, setting the pace for the Huskies' 13th place showing overall in the state race. Hanna, meanwhile, qualified for this week's IHSA state swim meet in four events.
"I was hoping to finish in the Top 10, but I wasn't sure how everything would play out. Overall, I'm pretty happy with my result," Mary said. "The team hadn't been downstate in a while, so we were all pretty pumped to make the trip, and coming in 13th place [as a team] was awesome."
OPRF cross-country coach Tom Tarrant acknowledged the immediate impact of his freshman runner.
"It's clear Mary's talent helped our program, but the intangibles of a good work ethic and positive attitude were equally important," Tarrant said. "If Mary works smart and stays healthy, I believe she will challenge for top runner in the state [next season]."
Last Saturday, Hanna assumed a key role in leading the OPRF girls swim team to a runner-up finish at the Fenwick Sectional behind the host Friars. She qualified for state in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 53.41, in the 200 free (1:53.94) and also as a member of the Huskies' 200 and 400 free relay teams bound for this weekend's state meet at New Trier. During the regular season, the Huskies' 400 free relay team (with Hanna swimming the opening leg) broke the 24-year-old school record for best time in that event.
"We were all nervous about breaking the record because people had been building it up for weeks," Hanna said, "but we believed we could do it."
After competing at the swimming state meet Friday (and possibly Saturday), Hanna will switch gears and perform Sunday at Orchestra Hall as first chair viola — including solos — with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
The budding OPRF stars have fed off each other's ambitions and diversified interests.
"We're very different in basically everything, but I think that helps us because we both want to excel in our sport," said Mary, who enjoys fostering kittens in her spare time. "We support and inspire each other. If we were competing in the same sport, there could be some tension."
Tension certainly isn't a word that comes to mind regarding the girls' frictionless transition from Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School to OPRF. Sure, there has been additional homework and the normal social adjustments to a new and larger school, but the twins felt like Huskies well before entering high school.
"Our brothers, Louis and Ryan went to OPRF before us," Mary said. "We attended a lot of OPRF events to watch out brothers, and we got to know some teachers and become pretty familiar with the school."
Older brothers Louis (graduated) and Ryan (a junior) set the bar high. A National Merit Scholar at OPRF, Louis is currently attending the University of Southern California. He was awarded two college scholarships, the USC Thornton Faculty Award (music) and the USC Presidential Scholarship (academic). He is pursuing separate undergraduate degrees — a Bachelor of Music in guitar jazz performance and a Bachelor of Science in physics.
At OPRF, Louis dabbled in hockey before focusing on music. Ryan, on the other hand, has committed to play college hockey at Dartmouth. Playing for the Chicago Youth Americans in AAA hockey (the most competitive league for his age group with three teams each from Chicago and Detroit), he has eight goals and nine assists in 18 games for the CYA U18 team this season. Last year, he scored 27 goals and dished out 16 assists over 45 games with the CYA U16 squad.
Though far from finished academically and athletically at OPRF, his mind occasionally wanders to life in Hanover, N.H., playing hockey for the Big Green.
"Dartmouth has an amazing hockey program with a lot of history," he said, "and it provides me an opportunity to take advantage of a great education while still pursuing hockey. Playing at a school like Dartmouth could help me play at the next level, and I'll have a strong degree as a life foundation."
While parents Bill and Julie are proud of their children's impressive achievements, they are happiest that all are engaged and committed to something.
"What's neat is that all of our kids have found something they are truly passionate about and they give it their all," said Julie, a former District 97 school board member. "They are passionate about sports and music, they take their schoolwork seriously, and they're good kids."
Then again, they set the example. Bill earned his MBA from the University of Chicago and started the company Peopleflo Manufacturing while Julie is a family physician who completed her undergraduate and medical school studies at Northwestern. Bill played basketball at Middlebury College in Connecticut. Julie is a New Trier alumna who played volleyball for the Trevians and still enjoys running 5K races.
Still, the Blankemeier sisters' dedication stands out.
"Hanna works so hard," Mary said. "Sometimes in running, I'm on my own, so watching her dedication for swimming inspires me. Being twins is a lot different than just being sisters. We're going through everything together at the same time and we know what the other feels."
Hanna adds, "Obviously, she is very outgoing and she lightens things up. I love Mary's spirit, and when I'm sad or feeling down, she always puts things in perspective."