For some who were accustomed to thinking about Brenda and Lindsay Taylor as inseparable, it may have come as a surprise when the pair announced that they were going separate ways for college. But when Lindsay fell in love with Brown, and Brenda chose Harvard, the two were neither surprised nor disappointed that their college lives would be spent on different campuses.
“All of our lives we did the same things and were known as the ‘Taylor Twins,'” recounts Brenda. “We were both swimmers, both state champions [out of Boone, N.C.]. By college, we were ready to take separate paths.”
When they decided on schools that were only 45 minutes apart it provided an opportunity for frequent visits, yet each was on a campus where she felt most at home. Both vividly remember a defining moment in the college selection process when they visited Brown. Upon hearing that Harvard was also high on their list of choices, a Brown student posited this difference, “The difference between Brown students and Harvard students is that Harvard students will lead the world, but Brown students will change it.”
“When I heard that,” recalls Lindsay, “I knew I was home. Brown was my first choice… my only choice.”
Brenda ultimately felt that she was more suited to the culture at Harvard. Although she also planned to be someone who would make a difference in the world, she was attracted to the opportunity to do that from a firmer springboard. “I liked the structure at Harvard. I loved the core curriculum and the fact that I would be required to take certain courses that I might not choose on my own. I felt I would grow from that.”
She also instantly loved the sense of history she felt the moment she stepped inside the gates of Harvard Yard. “You just felt that you were in a place of higher learning. And I liked that everyone there was ambitious and it’s out in the open. I felt at home.”
It would have been almost unfair to the other seven track and field programs in the league if the two had chosen to matriculate together and consolidate their formidable athletic talents on one team. Between them, they won 23 Heps titles in individual events over their eight indoor and outdoor championship meets. Their influence was even greater if you consider their relay duties.
Lindsay became the only four-time winner of the pentathlon event in Ivy League history and set the Ivy League record. In outdoor track she added two more multi-event titles, and also won the open long jump and 200 meters as well. Her 5-foot-10 ability in the high jump might have been enough to win that event at some point as well had it not been for the fact that her college career ran concurrently to that of Olympian Dora Gyorffy, the greatest high jumper in Ivy League history. Lindsay’s prolific scoring helped Brown dominate Heptagonal competition winning six out of the eight Heps titles during her four year career.
One of the two titles that escaped was captured by Brenda and the Crimson. Brenda established herself as one of the most versatile sprinters in the league winning Heps championships in everything from the 55m indoors to the 400 meter hurdles outdoors. Between those two distances she had her greatest success in Heptagonal competition in the 100 meter hurdles winning three consecutive Heps titles and setting the current Heptagonal meet record. Her senior year, she went on to become the NCAA Champion in the 400 meter hurdles and won the Honda Award as the nation’s best female scholar-athlete.
Since graduating in 2001, the pair has continued to pursue elite athletics. Brenda has focused on the 400 meter hurdles, climbing to seventh on the all-time U.S. list and reaching the Olympic final in 2004. After struggling with injuries for the last two years, she is training for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Lindsay traded the heptathlon for the pole vault as her primary event, and moved her training base to Idaho to train with Olympic Gold Medalist Stacy Dragila, and her coach. Less than two years after picking up a pole for the first time, she had become one of the nation’s top vaulters. But a broken arm in 2004 ended any chance of making the Olympic team that year, and has led to a chronic shoulder injury that threatens her ability to continue training for the vault at all.
Although both Brenda and Lindsay initially moved to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., just south of San Diego, intent on being fulltime, professional athletes, both have since discovered that the Ivy model of combining academics and athletics at the highest levels is one that continues to suit them best.
An engineering major at Brown, Lindsay has found a career she loves, designing cardiovascular devices for Abbott Vascular. “I walk in to work every day and I’m reminded of how many lives we can save. That is unmatched. That is exactly what I want to do.” Even if she is able to successfully resume training for the Beijing Olympic Games Trials, she plans to continue working. Down the line, an MBA is also in her plans.
Brenda, despite her considerable success as a professional athlete, also chafed at the opportunity cost of doing nothing but athletics. She has been active in community service, including a program she founded called, No Obstacles, doing outreach with school kids, and was named the Visa Humanitarian of the Year in 2004 by USA Track & Field.
Now she has begun to incorporate a job in to her busy schedule as well. She has a part-time position at Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista, in which she is learning hospital administration and healthcare delivery. She eventually wants to work on improving how healthcare is provided in the country. “Success for me means making a positive impact… changing someone’s life,” she says. She is committed to doing this through healthcare. “That is my passion.” There is a chance she will end up back on an Ivy campus as she has applied to the MBA programs at Columbia, Harvard and Wharton, among others.
Since Lindsay also plans on getting her MBA, there is a chance the two could reunite, again if not on the same campus then within the Ivy League. Next time their hard work will have a more far-reaching impact than just Ivy League track. They will both be learning how to save lives.
This story was written by Meredith Rainey Valmon in 2007 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.