It is a warm day in late September when the swimming and diving team assembles for an afternoon practice at the University Recreation Center natatorium. The men’s and women’s teams are days away from helping Richard Sybesma kick off his 29th season as head coach, and Sybesma talks to the men’s team as it prepares to hit the pool in preparation for its Oct. 19 meet.Before the team can hop in, Maribeth and Michelle Pottenger begin to turn heads among casual passersby and teammates alike as the twin sisters enter the pool area.
They arrive separately, but its obvious the lives of the senior duo from San Antonio have been intertwined since birth.
“We’ve been pretty much inseparable,” Michelle Pottenger said. “It was only natural for us to come to the same school. We thought about going to different places and we actually signed differently, but we never sent them in because we had breakdowns, saying, ‘No, we have to go to the same school.'”
Maribeth Pottenger said the sisters started to develop a passion for swimming in the middle of eighth grade – about the same time Michelle Pottenger broke her arm playing soccer.
The two went on to enjoy successful swimming and water polo careers at Clark High School, raking in All-American and all-state honors in the two sports along the way.
Maribeth Pottenger, who specializes in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events and has the fifth-best 100-yard backstroke time in TCU history, said her sister is the one that could swim any event at any time.
“You tell her to swim a 200-fly, she’s in the water swimming a 200-fly,” Maribeth Pottenger said. “You tell her to swim a 1,000 (-yard freestyle), she’s in the water swimming a 1,000 (-yard freestyle). Tell me to do that and I’ll laugh in your face and say no.”
Being around the Pottengers for 10 minutes, the average person could see they have genuinely enjoyed each other’s company not only during their college careers, but also in life. At an early age, the sisters said a heavy emphasis was placed on the importance of family. They went on regular family trips and had game nights, further driving home the message of what it means to succeed as a family unit.
That unit has been challenged before and during the Pottengers’ time at TCU with their mother, Lois, suffering from breast cancer and their father, Jeff, having open-heart surgery last year.
Through all of the adversity, Maribeth Pottenger said her mother didn’t change her outlook on life and if she did change, it was for the better.
“She still went to all of our meets and drove us to practice even through her chemotherapy,” Michelle Pottenger said. “You couldn’t even tell she had gone through this horrible ordeal.”
The same was said of their father. The type of success he wants to see from the twins only pushes them to go the extra mile, Maribeth Pottenger said.
“He kind of drives us to do better and to do our best since we’re so family-oriented,” Maribeth Pottenger said. “It means a lot to the whole family to work together.
“He was out a week after his surgery, just wanting to be a part of life and enjoying life.”
Although having to see the people they love go through so much hardship, the twins said it shaped them into who they are today.
“There’s a lot of struggle, but at the same time, it makes us so much stronger,” Michelle Pottenger said. “If we do succeed, it makes it that much more worthwhile.”
Maribeth Pottenger added: “They just take life for what it is and they can move past it. They don’t even look at it as hardships, really. They see it as a challenge to get through.”
That attitude has been reflected in their performances in and out of the pool as they have been quality people and good students during their time at TCU, Sybesma said.
“They’re quiet leaders, but they’re leaders,” Sybesma said. “By quiet leaders, they lead by example. They’ve never been one ounce of trouble.”
In the end, the Pottengers have one another and that’s what matters most: family.
“I don’t think we would have made it without each other,” Michelle Pottenger said. “And we get really annoyed with each other, don’t get me wrong, but she really is my rock. If I’m having a bad day, I can always count on her.