Wonder Twins: Meet the Sisters Dominating Handball in New York
Melanie and Jessenia Garate are champions of the same Coney Island courts that were once ruled by their trailblazing mum.
"Snapshots" is a series that checks in with neighbourhood athletes around the world.
Melanie and Jessenia Garate spent much of their childhood on the sidelines of handball courts around Brooklyn, watching their mum compete. It proved to be instructive childcare. Now the roles have reversed: the twins clean up on the court while mum shouts encouragement.
With the boardwalk as a backdrop, we meet the sisters courtside at their Coney Island stomping ground. Interviewing the 22-year-olds is a bit like watching them play doubles—they're fast, smart and finish each other's sentences like they share one brain.
What are your earliest memories of these courts here?
Jessenia: Our mum would go to play and we'd go with her.
Melanie: If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have gone to Coney Island. She would bring two chairs that were stuck together, little kids' chairs. And we'd just sit. And now we're here all the time.
What's something about competitive handball that people might not know?
Melanie: There's a ranking system. There's A players, B players and C players. In the girls' [league], there's only As and Bs because there's a lot more guys. Since we're women As, we are considered B men.
Jessenia: It's confusing. I can rant for years about how females are underrated in handball. It's a male-dominated sport, and a lot of the time men feel like, "Oh, we do it better. This is our sport". And me and [Melanie] decided to just be like, "I can do the exact same thing you can do".
You have a lot of similarities as twins, but how would you describe your individual styles of play?
Jessenia: I play underhand. I'd been playing softball for a while, and it kind of messed up my shoulder, so a lot of times it'd be too hard for me to go overhand to swing. My underhand makes me more compact and smaller on the court.
Melanie: I'm really good at side arm. I'm the power set player, which means I take a lot more of the court. I do a lot more of the running around. And it's perfect because [Jessenia] just stands there like a statue.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
Jessenia: I can't go to the bathroom! I have to hold it in until the tournament ends because I hate wetting my hands when I'm playing. It makes them more soft. I feel like I'm gonna hit the ball and it's gonna hurt my hands a lot more. I don't know why I think that.
Melanie: Sometimes we chew gum, just to get the nerves out.
"We used to take pictures of us winning with the trophy in one hand and we'd high-five in the picture, like, 'Wonder Twin' powers, activate".
You're sometimes called "the Wonder Twins". Where'd that come from?
Melanie: There's this lady named Cheena and every time she saw us, she called us the Wonder Twins. It just caught on and everyone started calling us Wonder Twins.
Jessenia: "We used to take pictures of us winning with the trophy in one hand and we'd high-five in the picture, like, 'Wonder Twin' powers, activate".
Words: Sam Hockley-Smith
Reported: September 2020