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Globe South Sports

Brothers team up for UMass swimming

By Andrew Clark
Globe Correspondent / April 8, 2010

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Their rivalry is true, like any siblings’ only separated by two years. They are fierce competitors, yet no one is more supportive of Ryan Brooks than his brother, Justin. And vice versa.

They swam together at the Dedham pool, and then Xaverian Brothers in Westwood. They trained together during the summer on the Cape, when they were working as lifeguards at Craigville Beach in Centerville.

And the last two seasons, the duo teamed up on the men’s swimming and diving team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an experience they both describe as “unforgettable.’’

“It’s been great,’’ said Justin Brooks, a senior who will graduate as the program’s record-holder in the 1,650-yard freestyle, a mark he set in winning the 2008 Atlantic-10 championship.

“We’ve always had a sibling rivalry but we’ve always been very supportive of one another.’’

This season, the Brooks brothers helped propel the Minutemen to a first-place finish at the A-10 Swimming and Diving Championships held in Buffalo, N.Y.

According to Ryan Brooks, having his older brother on the same team to guide him has been an invaluable asset.

“It’s been really great to have him here,’’ said Ryan. “He’s really helped me with a lot of strokes. It’s made things a lot easier to have him around, especially coming in here my freshman year. He helped me get used to college very quickly.’’

In addition to his 15:41.72 mark in the 1,650, Justin also owns the school’s second-fastest time in the 1,000 freestyle (9:31.95).

Ryan, meanwhile, has come on strong, showing flashes of brilliance in the 100, 200, and 500 freestyle this past season.

According to Minutemen coach Russ Yarworth, the brothers are dedicated athletes who have been invaluable members of his program.

“Justin and Ryan are two of the hardest workers I’ve had,’’ said Yarworth.

“Their individual dedication, which can include four hours of training per day, is phenomenal. Justin won the 1650 free at our Atlantic 10 Conference Championships three of his four years at UMass. He single-handedly established our distance program and is leaving as our school record holder.’’

Harworth feels Ryan will step up next season and play an important role for the Minutemen.

“Ryan has shown great promise in the sprint and middle distance freestyle events. I’m fully confident that with another year of development he’ll be able to score big points at our conference championships.’’

Though Justin tends to swim longer races in the freestyle and IM while Ryan swims shorter freestyle distances, the two were competitors in the 500 freestyle this year, which fueled their rivalry, according to Ryan.

“In the beginning, he would beat me pretty easily,’’ he said. “But after I trained a lot, things began to change around towards the end of the season.’’

They were in the pool at an early age, — Justin was 8 and Ryan was 6.

At Xaverian, Ryan won a state title in the 200 freestyle while Justin captured the 200 IM as a junior and was the Catholic Conference MVP.

“We’ve always had a really close relationship all of our life,’’ said Justin. “It’s been really great to be able to look out for him and be around each other all of the time.’’

After graduating, Justin is hoping to find an internship relating to his economics major. Though he doesn’t plan to immediately get back into competitive swimming, he is aiming to eventually get involved in open-water swimming.

Like his brother, Ryan does not plan to pursue competitive swimming after college. A biology major with a pre-med focus, he is hoping to compete in triathlons following his graduation; he already participates in a few each summer.

Their time sharing the collegiate level is done, one the two called priceless.

“It was definitely a unique experience,’’ said Ryan. “We did swim together in high school, so it wasn’t that different to swim on the same team as my brother. But we have had an awesome time at UMass together.’’