Meet Daniel and Daniel

Two high schoolers share a name, and a passion for running.

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Daniel da Silva and Daniel Serpa are seniors at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. They’re both distance runners, and they’re both really good at what they do.

At the Ocean State Invitational on Sept. 24, they placed ninth and 12th overall in the Division II Boys varsity cross-country race, which featured 300 runners from throughout southern New England. They followed this performance up two weekends later, finishing 13th and 14th overall at the Bay State Invitational at Fort Devens. Their success isn’t limited to the cross-country season, either. Last spring, along with Vineyard alumni Zach Utz and Jonathan Norton, Daniel and Daniel participated in the 4×800 meter relay, Emerging Elite division, at the Nike Outdoor Track & Field Nationals in Oregon. They won the whole thing.

Writing the weekly MVRHS sports wrap-ups, I couldn’t help but notice how consistently Daniel and Daniel were medaling at various cross-country races, despite the amount of competition. I also picked up on everything that they have in common: their names, ages, and most interestingly, their times. At Bay State, Da Silva’s time was 17:12.2; Serpa’s time was 17:12.8. In a dual meet versus Sandwich back on Sept. 20, Serpa came in first at 17:41.0, and Da Silva was 0.4 seconds behind him. I was shocked. On two separate occasions, the two were quite literally neck and neck after five kilometers of racing. Upon further investigation, I realized this pattern was no fluke: Their personal 5k records are 16:27 (Da Silva) and 16:37 (Serpa) respectively, which they of course achieved in the same meet a few weeks ago. Furthermore, on the track, their 800m records are 0.7 seconds apart.

To an outside observer, it’s obvious that these two must have some sort of a rivalry. And as a former high school distance runner, I was acutely aware of how important and intense this rivalry could be. Distance running is a unique kind of team sport, where teammates are individual competitors first, and serve to provoke the ego of their equals in a setting where everyone is pushing themselves to their limits. How did this play out between Daniel and Daniel? Were their photo finishes tragic, or uplifting?

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak with them on the phone. I was extremely curious about their relationship, but concerned about the possibility of stirring any resentments. I had no clue if Daniel and Daniel were even friends or not. As it turns out, however, my fears were completely unfounded; the two have developed the utmost gratitude for each other.

According to the two runners, their relationship as runners started back at the end of 2019, during their freshman year. Da Silva had been a runner since middle school, and was coming off an inspiring cross-country season in which the Vineyarders won States. Meanwhile, Serpa was strictly a soccer player at the time, but Da Silva convinced his classmate to come out for indoor track that winter. Serpa saw it as an opportunity to stay fit for the soccer season, and joined. Then the pandemic happened, but the two kept running. By the fall of 2021, they were both four-season runners, and ascending up the ranks. It was clear the two had great work ethics, and would be Coach Joe Schroeder’s top two men’s runners their senior year. 

I asked them, “What motivates you guys to be so good?” One of the first things that came to their minds: Each other. They told me how over the summer, they met up and trained together every day, and occasionally even led practice for the entire team. And in races, each other’s presence is so important for the other. Da Silva said that at Bay State, having Serpa run up next to him halfway through the race gave him an invaluable second wind: “Without him, I think my time would have been much slower.”

Serpa explained that they work in tandem, helping each other break up packs, and stick to their game plan for that particular race: “Having someone against you that’s gonna push you to be the best that you can makes everybody better.” 

In a phone call with Coach Schroeder a few days later, he summed it up perfectly: “They’re there to help each other achieve a goal … that’s what embodies their relationship as runners.”

Outside of practices and meets, Daniel and Daniel like spending time with each other and their teammates. According to them, the “communal suffering” of distance running attracts a certain kind of personality, and has made everyone really close. Aside from running, Serpa also enjoys fishing, and da Silva enjoys skating. Ultimately, they are individuals who happen to have a lot in common. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that their trajectories have impacted one another’s lives, and pit them together as rivals, co-captains, and friends.