Kaila (left) and Jade Barber

Fighting Together

April 8, 2014

By Phoenix Harris ’14

Notre Dame is known for having a tradition deeply rooted in family. Many students have generation after generation of family members who graduated as members of the university.

It’s also not uncommon to see sibling athletes play on Fighting Irish sports teams together. Just this year, the Atkins twins took to the football field, the Shipp brothers helped the men’s soccer team win a National Championship, and each tennis team had a Sabacinski sibling on the courts.

But according to junior track and field sprinter and hurdler Jade Barber, her journey with twin sister Kaila to Notre Dame and to the track team is definitely one of a kind.

“The truth is, all siblings have fights,” she says. “And we happened to be in the middle of a really big fight when deciding where we were going to go to college.”

Barber explains that prior to deciding to come to Notre Dame, both she and Kaila were committed to a different university. The fight led both of them to look at other schools.

“I called the Notre Dame coaches at the last second and asked for an official visit,” Barber recalls. “They were happy to do that. But then my parents called and decided to have Kaila go with me. During the visit, I had a great time.

“My parents told me to wait a week before I decided if I was going to go, so I waited a week and committed. Kaila waited less than 48 hours after and called the coaches at Notre Dame and told them she wanted to sign.”

She smiles and quickly adds, “Obviously it all worked!”

Fast forward three years and the twin sisters are a united sprinting and hurdling force to be reckoned with.

After an impressive freshman year and even better sophomore season in which Barber broke three school records, this year is proving to be no different. She continues to build off last season in which she set the Notre Dame mark for 60m hurdles (8.13), 100m hurdles (12.93), and indoor 4x400m relay (3:34.67) and received four All-America citations while winning three conference championships.

However, repeating those types of results this year did not prove as easy as Barber hoped.

“I was going to do a lot of events this year, but early in the season I fell over a hurdle and got a concussion and then my knee swelled,” she says. “I was out for a month and so now I don’t have the endurance to do all of those things. My goals for indoor season got changed a lot as the season went on.

“When the season first started, my goal was to be top eight, which I ended up hitting, but then I got hurt. The injury really made me go back and forth between wanting to place and wanting to just get there.”

Despite her injury setback early in the season, Barber ran an 8.09 in the 60m hurdles this fall, a new school record. She also ran an 8.10 at the Indoor NCAA Championships, which gave her a 7th place finish and All-American recognition.

But for Barber, even though the indoor season ended less than a month ago, all of her thoughts and energy are focused on the outdoor meets on the schedule.

Her feelings about the outdoor season compared to the indoor season is reflective of the majority in the track and field community.

“Outdoor is so much better than indoor!” she laughs. “I do the 60m hurdlers indoor and I have a hard time getting out of the blocks for my starts. But outdoor, I have five more hurdles and I usually catch up.

“Last year, I didn’t make it to the finals for the outdoor championships, but this year I’m going to make it. I’m going to PR [set a personal record]. Those are my goals: to PR and make finals. I feel like it’ll be easier for me outdoor than indoor.”

Though her goals are purely personal, it’s hard for Barber to deny that she is also motivated by the performance of her twin. During their time at Notre Dame, the sisters have competed closely, often going back and forth between first and second place titles.

“Freshman year, all the attention was on Kaila,” Barber admits. “Everyone knew she was good, and no one knew I was good. Sophomore year I started to do better and people were happy. This year I’m expected to do well. What was okay last year for me to run isn’t acceptable now.”

As a freshman, Kaila opened her college career as BIG EAST Female Track Athlete of the Week. She also earned a relay title at the BIG EAST Outdoor Championships and three All-BIG EAST scrolls: third in the 400m hurdles, third in the 4x400m relay, and first in the 4x100m relay.

As a sophomore, she only competed in seven meets of indoor season but still earned All-BIG EAST honors, ran solid times in her races and earned a monogram. She redshirted the outdoor season due to stress fractures.

This year the stress fractures prevented her from training until the women’s team was well into their fall conditioning. Although she happened to make progress in the 60m regardless, a knee injury caused her to sit out for a few meets until conference. Kaila still competed at the Indoor ACC Championships and scored points in the 60m hurdles, which helped the Notre Dame women place third overall.

With the ACC Outdoor Championships two weeks away, Kaila is currently training for the 400m hurdles, the 4x100m relay and the long jump. Although the events she’ll compete in are not set in stone, she hopes to do well in multiple.

“Even when she is hurt, she continues to be a top-notch athlete,” Barber says of her sister. “Getting her into shape and having her compete is crucial for our team doing well at big meets.”

Although a fight may have sparked their journey to Notre Dame, major disagreements between the two today are almost unheard of. Barber says that along with her teammates, Kaila has been one of her biggest support systems.

“I’m really, really happy that she came and I’m especially happy that we’re both here after this year,” she says.

This past fall the Barber sisters lost their father, John Barber III. The unforeseen personal tragedy has brought them closer than ever. Being there for one another while going through such a hard time away from home is their top priority.

“A lot of my teammates have been very helpful through the process,” Barber says. “But they didn’t understand that just because we were both back, didn’t mean we were both okay. Even now, we’re still not O.K. But if Kaila is upset, I can go to her room, and if I’m upset she comes to my room. It’s amazing to have a person like that here.”

The support system built between Barber and her sister is reflected throughout the entire women’s track and field team this season. Barber says the bond between all of the runners and field event athletes is stronger than any of her previous years.

“This year we’re more like a unit and it makes a huge difference,” she says. “As an underclassman on the team, there was a lot of competition. Instead of competing with other teams, we were competing with each other. This year people are cheering for you. Everybody gets along and we have fun.”

The twins and almost 20 of their teammates traveled to the Stanford Invitational this past weekend. Four of the Fighting Irish women placed in the top eight of their events. Barber was one of them. She won the women’s 100m hurdles with a time of 13.13, which puts her at eighth in the country so far this season.

In addition to competing this past weekend, Jade and her sister celebrated their 21st birthday while on the road. Prior to leaving Notre Dame for the competition, Jade said the combination of the meet and their birthday had been something her sister and her had looked forward to sharing with their dad.

She said his presence would definitely be missed, but she was happy to have her twin traveling with her and adds, “We always share a room on the road.”

Barber and the track and field team are scheduled to travel to the Border Battle this upcoming weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow the team throughout the rest of the outdoor season @NDXCTF.