Tale of twins

Aitkens' success shows value of sticking with it

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Want a quick look at the quirky psychology that goes on between twins? Then take a minute to try and figure out what's going on with Nikiski seniors, and identical twins, Tony and Wayne Aitken when it comes to wrestling styles.

Tony, a 135-pounder with a 23-7 record, and Wayne, a 130-pounder with a 29-4 record, insist their wrestling styles are as different as night and day.

Tony: "My style is kind of defensive. People do moves on me and I react to them."

Wayne: "My style is really aggressive. I'll keep going and trying different moves. I just go as long and hard as I can -- a lot of real hard, deep shots."

In fact, Wayne says his brother's way of wrestling is so foreign to him that he can't even stand to watch him compete.

Case closed. End of story. The styles are different, right? Not if you ask other people about the twins.

"Wayne's personality is a little more aggressive, and Tony's a little more passive," Nikiski wrestling coach David Martian said. "When it comes down to it, they're both the same on the mat.

"They both just go after it."

Interjected Nikiski assistant Steve Gillaspie, "They're like mirrors."

OK. OK. So maybe those coaches can't see the nuanced differences. But what about the parents? Surely, they can tell the difference, can't they?

"I can't tell them apart (when they're wrestling)," said Nancy Aitken, Tony and Wayne's mother. "I only know who's on the mat because I can see their face.

"Wayne does seem to be more aggressive than Tony, but that was until this year. Tony's really showing more aggression now than he did before."

So who's right -- Tony and Wayne, or everybody else? One could puzzle over it for a while, or one could do what Gillaspie does, and that's simply throw up his arms and laugh.

"It's hilarious," Gillaspie said of watching the interactions between the twins. "I watched the same thing with (Nikiski graduates and twins) Abe and Eli (Porter). When those two would both come over to my house, they would take separate cars.

"Tony and Wayne don't do that, but when one of them drives somewhere, it's always the other one that's going to be driving home."

This year, the Aitken twins have become a feel-good story for more reasons than peculiar moments fostered by their twindom. After taking more licks than a Tootsie Roll early in their careers, the two are now one of the main reasons Nikiski is one of the favorites to take the fall state wrestling crown.

At the ACS Invitational in early November, one of the biggest meets of the year, Wayne took third at 130 and Tony took fourth at 140 as the Bulldogs ran away with the team title.

"Right now, they're a big part of the reason for our success playing out in tournaments and duals," Martian said. "They're out there trying to pin opponents."

It wasn't too long ago that the Aitkens were not the pinners, but the pinees.

"Early on in my wrestling career, I got beat a lot, and when I got beat it was by a lot," Wayne said, with Tony sitting below him nodding his head in familiarity. "People were just rallying on me."

The duo started wrestling in seventh grade, getting introduced to the sport in the physical education class of Gillaspie. After getting over their initial disappointment over the lack of WWF-style flying clotheslines off the top turnbuckle, the Aitkens joined the wrestling team for the duration of middle school.

"They were both ready to quit and ready to give it up, but between us and the coaches, we'd say, 'Give it one more year. Give it one more year,'" Nancy said.

After middle school, the boys were given a rude introduction to high school wrestling by another set of brothers -- the state-champion Kirks from Delta Junction.

"I still remember those matches," Gillaspie said. "I've still have them on tape. I don't know what it was, but those Kirk boys were feeling rough that night.

"They kept tossing Tony and Wayne to the floor, but they kept getting up and getting after them. That's the effort that eventually made them so good."

Both Tony and Wayne said they started turning the corner during their junior years. The duo credits excellent practice partners and coaches for their rapid ascension.

"We got better because of the people we had in the room with us," Wayne said. "We had great practice partners like Gerrad Bowlin and Tela O'Donnell.

"They'd beat up on me pretty good."

Added Tony: "We've also had awesome coaching with Gillaspie and Martian."

The duo has given back to the program, helping Martian out with the middle-school wrestling team after the high school season ends.

When not wrestling, the Aitkens play football, play soccer and do plenty of studying. Both earn A's and B's in the classroom.

Tony will start studying next year to be a veterinarian, due to a love of animals he picked up when the Aitkens lived on a farm in Oregon before moving to Alaska when Tony and Wayne were in the second grade.

"He's always loved animals," said Tony's father, Bruce. "As long as I can recall, he's wanted to be a veterinarian. He's the only kid I know who's actually wanted to be the same thing his whole life."

Bruce is a trained chef, and both Nancy and Bruce do cooking in their jobs at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center. Wayne will follow in their footsteps when he goes off to study culinary arts next year.

Tony has gotten a taste for his career with some work at the Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic, while Wayne has done some food prep at the senior center and at Louie's restaurant in Kenai.

While both realize they have a long way to go in their careers, both also have learned, through wrestling, what hard work and perseverance will get them.

"For me, they're what sports at the high school level is all about," Gillaspie said. "You take kids without a lot of the God-given gifts that a lot of kids walking the halls have.

"These kids never thought they'd have success, but they work hard and turn out better than they thought they'd be. That's the biggest thrill for me -- watching something like that."

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