OAKLAND — Soren and Jesse Donisvitch are your typical teenage brothers.
They’re also two of the top athletes on the Messalonskee High School track team, and they’re equally competitive on and off the track. According to their mother, Rebecca Herron, they enjoy just about anything to do with the outdoors, including hiking and camping.
The brothers have their differences in personality, but in a way that helps them complement each other.
Soren, a senior, has a strong-willed intensity about him, while Jesse, a sophomore, is as calm and cool as they come. They do, however, have their similarities as well.
“It’s a privilege to have them both because they both work very hard,” Messalonskee track coach Scott Wilson said. “They always have smiles on their faces and they’re two of the most polite kids and grateful kids I’ve had on my team in a long time.”
While they are two years apart in age, Wilson even jokingly calls them “the twins.”
“You can see the family resemblance,” Soren says with a smile.
Well, yes and no.
The two are not related by blood — Jesse grew up in an orphanage in Haiti before the Donisvitch’s adopted him in 2003.
Their story, however, is about family.
There is not too much Jesse remembers about the time before he became part of the Donisvitch family.
“To be honest, I was pretty young,” he said of the early part of his life spent growing up in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. “I can remember little things, but I can’t remember a lot because I was just so young.”
Little things like the Buzz Lightyear action figure his soon-to-be family sent to him in Haiti, a toy Jesse no longer has but wishes he did.
“Growing up in an orphanage you normally don’t have specific toys of your own,” Soren, who very much plays the role of the older brother, said, “and this one was only his.”
While Jesse may not remember too much of when he and his older sisters Guerline, 25, and Marie, 20, were adopted, Soren does.
“I was seven when the adoption was initiated,” he said. “I actually had the chicken pox the first day he came.”
At that age, skin color is not something most 7-year-olds pay too much attention too and it was no different for Soren.
“At the time as a kid you’re so in the moment of everything,” he said. “You’re like, ‘oh sure, it’s another person to throw the ball around with.’”
Many things have changed for Soren Donisvitch over the years, but that is not one of them. When you grow up with seven other siblings ranging in age from 14 to 32 — numbers both have to sit and ponder for a moment — skin color is not something to get hung up about.
“Growing up in an ethnically diverse family is a little unusual but I consider Jesse my brother in all but blood,” Soren said. “He is as much a brother as anyone else, and he’s more than my brother — he’s my friend.”
“It’s not really about race or anything. It’s all about what’s inside a person,” added Jesse. “I don’t look at it as he’s white, or I’m black or whatever. I just look at it as family.”
Both admit, however, not everyone they’ve come across has seen it that way.
“Obviously, race has come into it sometimes,” Soren said, “but not as much as you would think.”
“It honestly doesn’t matter to me, but I mean other people might be like ‘he’s black’ or something,” Jesse added. “Sometimes it does bother me, but I’ve learned to deal with it because I can’t change who I am. I’m the only dark kid in the school, which is fine because I know that (whether) people like me or they hate me, it’s all right.”
That, of course, is how the brothers were raised, and these days Jesse has more than just his big brother looking out for him.
“That’s the great thing about track, you’re a part of a team. You have a big family and extended family,” Wilson said. “Indoor track we had 88 kids on the team so he had 87 brothers and sisters looking out for him also.”
So far this season, the Donisvitch boys are thriving with their extended family. Jesse is one of the team’s top sprinters while Soren is leading the way in the long and triple jumps.
Most of the time the two do different events, although they admit they squeeze in some time to race every now and then.
“Some days he beats me running,” Jesse said, “some days I beat him.”
“I enjoy having (him) be able to push me,” Soren added. “Some days I can’t help but end up looking at the back of his head and other times I’m happy to see I’m in front. It’s a good back and forth, brotherly rivalry.”
For as much as they’ve meant to each other and the team has meant to them, Wilson says they have also had an equally significant impact on the team.
“They’re both leaders. They’re both very happy kids and they’re great athletes,” Wilson said. “They’re always out there as leaders in number of points on the team, so the other kids look up to them and want to try to beat Jesse or beat Soren in their events or try to compete with them. It’s good for competition on our team, definitely.”
The two have a little less than one month remaining as teammates with Soren set to graduate this spring, but their bond goes beyond just members of the Messalonskee track team.
It’s a bond that has taken the brothers to great heights as individuals, beyond how fast they can run or far they can jump.
A bond that began over a decade ago, with a 5-year old boy and his Buzz Lightyear action figure in a Haitian orphanage.
A bond that will take them to infinity, and beyond.
Evan Crawley——621-5640 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Evan_Crawley