When opposing athletes discover that Brianna, Debbie, Cody and Alan Pekel are all siblings competing in the same sport of track and field for Fruitport High School, the reaction is pretty standard.
"When they find out we're a quad, they totally flip out," said Brianna, following a Trojans' practice at Fruitport High School on Wednesday. "Then they see us support each other as much as we do and they think it's so cool. But really, we just want each other to do well. We enjoy pushing each other."
Sibling rivalries are a good thing when it comes to the Pekels, as each have enjoyed a tremendous spring in the sport for the Trojans.
The children of Scott and Jessica Pekel could be doing a lot of celebrating on Saturday, as they'll each be competing for a berth to the Division 2 state finals at the regional meet at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids.
Brianna will compete in sprints and relays; Debbie in hurdles, relays and long jump; Cody in relays and sprints; and Alan in hurdles.
Reaching the promised land of the state finals has been a given for Brianna, who burst onto the scene as a freshman and hasn't let up, excelling on the track since. She'll be gunning for her fourth-straight trip to the state finals in the 400-meter dash, an event in which she placed sixth at last year's state finals, also at Houseman Field. She holds Fruitport's school record in the event with a time of 58.08 seconds.
"I'm hoping to get it down to 57 (seconds) by the end of this year," she said.
She also has her name in the school record books on three relays — the 3,200, 1,600 and 400.
"I consider those records a part of the team, because I've trained with them every day and they've helped me get better," Brianna said.
"Brianna is a real powerhouse," added Fruitport coach Randy Johnson. "She can do anything from the mile on down. I'm sure college coaches will be chasing after her, but she's a family girl. I think three of them are already set on going to (Muskegon Community College)."
Brianna talks confidently about leaving a lasting legacy behind. She said she hasn't been content with her season thus far, including what she called a "mental breakdown" in an upset loss to Spring Lake's Carlyn Arteaga in the 400 at the Lakes Eight Conference Meet last Friday.
"I don’t think I've pushed myself as much as I should have," she said. "My ideal goal would be all-state (in the 400), but I'm aiming for top four. I want to prove to coach that I have more to give. He thinks he's pushed me to the limit, but I haven't reached it yet."
Brianna said her biggest cheerleader on the Trojans is Debbie, who came out to the track team for the first time as a senior after playing soccer the previous three springs. Johnson said Debbie has made a huge impact, as she's solidified the lineup in hurdles and long jump and made the Trojans' 800-meter relay a serious contender to reach the state finals. That relay captured a Lakes Eight Conference title, as Brianna and Debbie, along with another sister duo of Heidi Klinger and Hannah Klinger, ran to a time of 1:52.15.
Debbie calls herself "a drill sergeant" because of her enthusiasm in encouraging teammates during a meet. Most of her high-pitched yells are directed at Brianna.
"She's really psycho," Brianna said with a laugh. "She'll be sitting at the top of the bleachers and I'll be able to hear every word she says (during a race). I think she sets a higher standard for me and when I don't reach them, she lets me know about it."
"I'm the person running back and forth on the field screaming my head off," Debbie said. "People may get sick of me by the end of meets because I've been screaming so much, but I think it helps."
Debbie, who also starred as the Trojans' point guard in basketball this winter, said she regrets not coming out for track sooner in her high school career.
"I feel like I'd be such a better runner and have more to offer if I did it last year," she said. "I think I could have had a chance to break the school record in the 300 hurdles and give (our 800 relay) a better chance to go to state."
Although they insist it's all in good fun, each sibling's athletic achievements often come into play when their verbal jousting heats up.
"It's just how we interact with each other," Debbie said. "It's all fun and games and we all love each other."
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