McKenzie twin duo leads the Wildcat track team by example, coach says

The McKenzie twins laugh together on the R.V. Christian Track in Manhattan. The pair came to Kansas State University from Jamaica to compete on the women's track and field team and study kinesiology and nutrition. (Anna Christianson | Collegian Media Group)

For the first eighteen years of their lives, Ranae and Shanae McKenzie did everything together. As identical twins, the pair said they were rarely seen apart throughout their childhood and adolescence as they grew up in Jamaica.

All of that changed in fall 2015 when Ranae made the long trip to Manhattan all by herself to run with the women’s track and field team at Kansas State University. Brought in as a sprinter, Ranae said she enjoyed being around her teammates, but she struggled being so far from her twin sister who was still back at home.

“It was a really tough time because we’d never been away from each other for that long, and I had to spend an entire semester without her,” Ranae said. “I was kind of reserved, shy, wasn’t outgoing at all.”

The McKenzie twins said they had always wanted to stay together after high school and attend the same university, but Shanae’s transfer process was slowed down when her NCAA Clearinghouse application was delayed. By the time she was deemed eligible to compete, most of the scholarship money for K-State’s track and field athletes had already been distributed, so she opted to wait for the outdoor season in the spring.

Despite the difficult semester apart, the twins said they remain as close as ever, and consider themselves each other’s biggest fans.

“[Ranae] pushes me to work harder,” Shanae said. “Being here with my sister, she’s always been here to support me, motivate me, encourage me always.”

While the track and field team has seen sets of twins before, head coach Cliff Rovelto said the McKenzie twins are the closest pair he’s had yet. Both seniors are kinesiology and nutrition majors, and they spend nearly all of their time together.

“[They’re] always out there supporting each other,” Rovelto said. “It’s very clear they have a very, very close relationship.”

As the McKenzie twins head toward the end of the track season, they are continuing to rely on each other’s encouragement. Ranae ran the top 400-meter hurdle time in the country in April at 56.11 seconds, and she said she has high hopes for the Big 12 Championship and NCAA Tournament in the next few weeks.

“I’m hoping to defend my Big 12 title [and] move on to the national championship,” Ranae said.

After her collegiate career is over, Ranae said she hopes to compete on the Jamaican national team.

Shanae said she is looking to improve her high jump to 1.8 meters at this year’s Big 12 Championship. This would require beating her current personal best of 1.76 meters, which she set at the Big 12 Championship in 2017.

In her last indoor track and field season next fall, Shanae said her goal is to continue setting personal records in her high jump.

During their time competing for K-State, the McKenzies have come a long way in their athletic careers. Rovelto said the twins have developed into leaders as they gained seniority on the team.

“They’re always leading by example,” Rovelto said. “Always competing at a high level, always willing to do what it takes to help the team out.”

While the demands of being a Division I student athlete can be tough, Ranae and Shanae agreed it’s a much better experience with a twin by their side.

“I have my best friend with me, so it makes everything better,” Shanae said. “We live together, we go out together, we do everything together. Everything’s better with my sister.”