Anne and Emily Hargraves have been inseparable since birth — figuratively and almost literally.
The Winnipeg teens are fraternal twins, born just a minute apart. Anne is the older of the two but doesn’t hold that over her sister.
A bond was easy to forecast, but a mutual love for their chosen sport only served to strengthen it. Their kinship grew to an tight friendship at a young age, held together, in part, by a racket — a squash racket, of all things.
That facet of their relationship reached a peak earlier this week at the Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island, where the 16-year-old sisters cut ties for a few moments with bragging rights on the line. While Anne and Emily have played several matches against each other over their decade in the sport, none has come during an event of such magnitude.
On Tuesday, they squared off in the 7th-place final, with Emily defeating her older sister 3-1 in the match.
“It was tough. It was very nerve-wracking,” Anne said. “We were both very nervous but we just made the best of it. We both tried to have fun and, while Emily ended up winning in four, it was a good time.”
Emily added: “We go into it just trying to have fun and not put too much pressure on ourselves. We’ve played a lot so we know how each other play. We just made the best out of it, I’d say.”
At the age of six, the twins were enrolled in squash lessons by their parents — longtime players themselves — at the Winnipeg Winter Club, just a four-minute walk from their house. The sport has taken up much of their extra-curricular time for the 10 years since.
“Unfortunately, for our sport, and a lot of the sports, sometimes female participation is lacking. So, luckily, they had each other growing throughout — there wasn’t a huge group of girls. Having each other was definitely a benefit,” said Trevor Borland, head coach for Team Manitoba at the Games.
Borland has trained the twins since their start in squash and has enjoyed a front-row seat for their development. Yet, he said it might have been their time away from the court during the COVID-19 pandemic that helped Anne and Emily take their biggest leap forwrd.
It was an opportunity to turn to other sports to pass the time, such as volleyball, track and basketball.
“They were just better overall athletes,” he said. “Both got bigger and stronger — things like changing directions and stuff got a lot better. I think playing those other sports actually benefitted rather than just having stayed in squash at that point.”
Anne and Emily credit their similar competitive nature for the growth in their games.
“We’re really competitive with each other,” Emily said. “So we’re always pushing each other to do better. I think it’s really good competition. It’s really helpful for both of our improvement.”
The twins have some business to take care of before they return home. Playing in the female team event, Emily and Anne have helped Manitoba to a 2-0 record in Pool B of preliminary play.
While their parents have made the trip to the Maritimes to cheer them on, it’s been each other’s company that has made competing on the national stage that much easier and enjoyable.
“It’s been really good having her here,” Emily said. We do a lot of things together so it makes me a lot more comfortable being in nerve-wracking situations with her alongside. We both just enjoy each other’s company a lot, so it’s made the experience here a lot better.”
Added Anne: “Me and Emily are like best friends and it’s been great being here together, always having someone with me. It’s been a great experience being here with her.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.