When Daren Stonerock of Saugus High toes the starting line for the state championship in the 3,200-meter race Saturday night at Cerritos College, he may feel out of place. Not that he doesn't belong in a race with the best high school distance runners in California; his record speaks for itself. But one ingredient from past races will be missing: his identical twin brother, Kirk.
During the past two years, the Stonerocks have been two of the top distance runners in the Southern Section. They have led Saugus to two straight 3-A Division cross country titles and the 3-A track title two weeks ago at Cerritos.
The state championship meet was supposed to be their final high school curtain call. Their training had been geared to this Saturday's race, and until last weekend, the plan was working.
In the 3-A championships two weeks ago, Kirk won the 3,200-meter race and placed second in the 1,600 meters. His times of 4:12.36 and 9:10.51 were both personal bests. Daren, last year's Southern Section 3-A champion at 3,200 meters, finished second in that race and third in the 1,600 in a personal best of 4:14.77. With their combined total of 32 points, Saugus won its first track championship.
The hip problems that bothered Kirk from the end of the 1985 cross country season through the beginning of this track season seemed to be over.
"He was looking great in workouts," Saugus cross country Coach Steve Spraker said. "On the Monday following the Southern Section finals, he looked super. He seemed to be peaking at just the right time."
But instead of peaking, he started hurting. Kirk tried everything to ease the pain in his left hip: ultrasound, ice packs, hot-cold treatments, stretching. Nothing worked.
Still, he entered last week's Masters meet and was the early leader in the 3,200 before the pain forced him to withdraw. Daren finished third in the race and qualified for the state meet, but Kirk's season ended the minute he stepped off the track.
"The injury is very agonizing, not because of the pain but because I'm unable to compete," said Kirk, who is five minutes younger than his brother.
"Because it was our senior year, we both wanted to run well at the state meet," Daren said.
Still, it has been a successful ride for the Stonerocks in high school athletics, even though the two took different paths to running.
Daren followed the fortunes of the Saugus High cross-country team when he was in junior high school and began running as a freshman but said he didn't become a serious runner until his sophomore year.
He had never broken 10 minutes in the two-mile run until the Burbank Invitational at the start of the track season.
"I'll always remember that race," Daren said. "Ten minutes was a big barrier to me. When I ran that fast, I thought to myself, 'I think I should stick with this,' " he said.
Meanwhile, Kirk was reading about identical twins from the Sacramento area named the Mastalirs. "I said to myself, 'Why not the Stonerocks?' "Kirk said. In the latter months of 1984, Daren came home from school one afternoon talking about the Mastalirs, and Kirk began training the next day.
Coincidentally, those same Mastalirs, Mark and Eric, are the favorites in the 1,600 and 3,200 this weekend.
Daren gained his first recognition as a junior, leading Saugus to the cross country title by placing second. During last track season, he won the Southern Section 3-A and Masters championships at 3,200 meters, and finished sixth in the state finals.
Although he was running in the shadow of his brother, Kirk made a name for himself. He ran 9:15 for 3,200 meters and finished second to Daren at the 3-A meet last year. He also qualified for the state meet, but injuries forced him to drop out of the finals.
The Stonerocks then led Saugus to its second straight cross country title last November, finishing 1-2 in the 3-A race.
Daren went on to place sixth in the Kinney Western Regional cross-country race and 17th at the nationals.
Success has not come easily to the Stonerocks. The blond-haired, blue-eyed twins are hard-work advocates. They have discovered no miracle shortcuts to becoming champions.
Said Saugus track Coach Bill Van Duzee: "Daren is a classic example of a kid who isn't blessed with great athletic talent, but became a champion through hard work and determination."
Said Daren: "It's like my mom always says, 'If you want to dance, you've got to pay the piper.' You have to work for what we've achieved. It doesn't just happen over night."
According to the Stonerocks, they are two different people, as individual as their looks are similar.
While Kirk is very confident and open about how fast he is capable of running, Daren is more reserved, letting his times do his talking. Their musical tastes also vary.
"I like the harder rock, such as Rush, while he favors new wave music," Kirk said.