Danielle, left, and Brandon Tilp of Cresskill each qualified for the USATF Junior Olympic Championship in Albuquerque, N.M. after running cross-country for the first time. Photo courtesy of Wendy Tilp
 

CRESSKILL - Like many middle schoolers, Brandon and Danielle Tilp have busy schedules.

Both are competitive soccer players who play with the World Class club team in Orangeburg, N.Y. Brandon has continued to play on the Cresskill travel team as well. In the summer, they nearly always swim on the Cresskill Swim Team.

Meanwhile, Danielle does ballet at Nunnbetter Dance and recently danced in the school's annual "Nutcracker" performance. Their parents, Bob and Wendy, happily drive their children to their various events and love watching their games and performances.

But for Brandon, 12, and Danielle, 10, it is their running, their newest sport, which has become the true family affair. And this is because they discovered their talent for the sport when they began running with their father.

"We don't run for a club," said Brandon. "We started with recreation and then we did NJ Striders meets. I did middle school track, but mostly we run with our dad."

Bob ran track at Cresskill High School and started training Brandon and Danielle with the aim of helping them do well in spring track. However, their rigorous schedules did not provide them with enough time to compete in United States Track and Field (USATF) meets last spring.

Brandon and Danielle ran the Cresskill and Haworth 5K's in the past and decided to try USATF cross-country meets this fall. They instantly experienced success.

"They don't even see me on the runs anymore," Bob said, laughing. "They're so far ahead of me."

STRATEGY AND SPEED

The USATF breaks the United States into 16 regions for cross-country. Runners have to qualify for the regional meet as the season goes on and can do so at any meet held throughout the fall. Then, any athlete who runs in the Top 30 in their region advances to the national meet.

Many young athletes compete in multiple New Jersey meets before running fast enough to participate in the regional meet.

Both Brandon and Danielle finished in the Top 5 in Morris Plains at their first true cross-country meet. These finishes qualified them to compete in the regional meet in Rochester, N.Y., where Brandon finished fifth and Danielle 10th.

As a result after just two cross-country races each, the Tilps had earned a trip to the Junior Olympics National Championship in Albuquerque, N.M.

There is a big difference between racing and just running, and Brandon and Danielle are evidently already approaching each race with a plan.

Brandon talked about his strategy.

"I want to stay in around fifth place for most of the race," he said, "and stay behind the person in front of me, right behind them."

"Dad always tells me to imagine in the last straightaway that there's someone behind me and I can't let them catch me," said Danielle. "That always makes me go faster at the end."

Both Brandon and Danielle say the finish is their favorite part of any race. They like the thrill of finishing strong and passing competitors.

ALTITUDE IN ALBUQUERQUE

As the national meet is held in a mountainous region of New Mexico, the altitude is high enough to greatly affect a runner's performance. There is no easy way to prepare for such racing conditions in North Jersey, but the siblings adjusted their training once they qualified to try and mitigate the challenges of such an environment.

"Being up in the mountains affects your breathing a lot," Brandon said. "Going into Junior Olympics we got ready for the altitude with hills. We would run with weights too for practice."