Just five pounds separate them from being indistinguishable on the mat.
Same singlets. Same hair caps. Same head gear. Same faces — identical faces.
Alise Terhune wrestles in the 125-pound weight class. Her twin, Autumn, at 130 pounds. Their opponents sometimes don’t know which girl stands in front of them.
But they know about the 14-year-old Terhune twins. They know of their fight and grit and fortitude.
“Tell me I can’t and I’ll show you over and over again that I can,” said Alise, reciting the twins’ favorite quote that hangs in the family’s Indianapolis home.
The girls overcame their mom’s reluctance to let them do what was traditionally a boys’ sport. They deal regularly with boys unhappy at being beaten by a girl, and strangers amazed at their choice of competition.
“Don’t let them tell you you can’t,” Autumn says. “Stick with it. Keep your heart and your mind in it.”
That they are teen girls wrestling, that’s not so rare anymore. There were 11,496 girls wrestling at the high school level in 2015, a number that has exploded from the 804 girls that wrestled nationwide in 1994, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
That they are identical twin girls who are co-captains of their boys wrestling team at Creston Middle School (Ind.) — who both are state champions? Well, that is rare and that’s phenomenal.
Alise and Autumn won the Indiana State Wrestling Association women’s tournament for their weight classes earlier this month, beating high school girls to take home their titles. Autumn pinned all of her opponents.
But winning those championships was just the icing. These girls have battled it out with the boys since they started the sport as seventh-graders at a time when neither really knew what they were getting into.
They had asked their mom, Joline, as fifth-graders and then as sixth-graders if they could try the sport, after watching their boy cousins wrestle weekend after weekend.
“At first, I was, ‘No. It’s all boys.’ And then again I was, ‘No,'” said Joline. “Then in seventh grade, they looked at me and said, ‘Please mom, we really want to do this.'”
The answer was — finally — yes.
“We got in and I had no clue what I was doing but I liked it,” said Autumn. “We just stuck with it.”
As twins, they’ve been able to battle it out at home, practicing the sport they love against one another.
What has helped the girls most is the support they’ve received from the boys on the team. Not one of them ever told the girls they couldn’t, Alise said.
“Our team and our coaches have been awesome,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘One day, you’ll go out there and you’ll get your hand raised (in victory).’ And it happened.”
There are, of course, all the usual story lines that come with girls competing in a sport that historically has been reserved for boys.
“The boys get pretty upset when they beat them,” said their dad, Josh. “And they’ve beat a lot of boys.”
There are the people who don’t believe the girls when they tell them they are wrestlers, said Alise.
“They are shocked,” said Autumn.
One of Autumn’s goals, even if she loses the match to a boy, is to not get pinned. She has wrestled boys who are undefeated, yet she’s managed to avoid the pin.
“We’ve had parents come up to her who are shocked at how much of a fight this female gave their son,” said Joline.
Autumn likes all the hard work and “the feeling of getting my hand raised.”
“You have to put in a bunch of work,” said Alise. “You don’t give up on it or anything. You go out there and the person in front of you wants the same thing you do. You both have to work for it on the mat and off the mat.”
Off the mat, the girls are easily distinguished from each other. Alise has shorter hair and is the tomboy, obsessed with superheroes. Autumn has long hair and will wear makeup and dresses.
“We have two identical twins that are very different,” said Joline.
But they are not different at all on the mat where their hair is covered with caps and they both have the same goal — and the same advice for little girls trying to break into a male-dominated sport.
“Just because they’re a girl doesn’t mean they can’t do anything a boy can do,” said Alise. “If they have the same heart and mindset they can do anything.”