Complete strangers recognize Dan Jones on campus all the time. It’s the same for his brother, Bill.
“I just play along,” said Dan. “I don’t know their names, I’ve never seen them before. I just assume Bill knows them and I try to be friendly so they don’t start hating him.”
There’s a connection between the graduating identical twins that runs much deeper than their looks: a sense of parallel lives and a profound love for, and dedication to, each other that has motivated them for 20 years. The pair falls into that category of twins who share an intense, almost indescribable relationship, one that transcends sibling attachment. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve pretty much done everything together, all the time,” said Dan. “It’s very nice,” added Bill. “I think it’s an advantage. You are never alone. Whenever there is a new situation, your best friend is there.”
For the athletic duo, the water has had a lot to do with their bond.
Growing up in western Michigan in a small town surrounded by lakes — and with a mother who was uncomfortable in the water — swimming classes were a must.
“It just so happens we were good at it,” said Dan.
And they were good, indeed, very good. They began swimming competitively at the age of 6. But their team’s practice pool was too far away to get to, so they spent countless hours in a pool closer to home, honing their skills against each other. “It made us better,” said Dan. “We didn’t have a coach; there was nobody there to motivate us except for each other, and that was pretty much essential to us getting as far as we did.”
Both eventually chose to swim the strenuous butterfly stroke in competitions. As time passed, their rivalry became so fierce — their finishes often separated only by hundredths of a second — friends would wager on who would win.
The University of Michigan and its legendary sports program looms large in the eyes of many an athletic high school senior from the state, and initially the pair were intent on swimming for the Wolverines. But a trip east changed all that. The combination of Harvard’s rigorous academic curriculum and strong swimming program was a perfect fit for the Midwest pair who had excelled in high school as both scholars and athletes.
“We liked it; we felt like we fit in here with the team; we liked the coach, and there have been no regrets. We made the right choice,” said Bill.
Attending different schools was never even a consideration.
“That’s what we thrive on,” offered Dan as a simple explanation, “each other’s support.”
As freshmen, they were separated, residing in different dorms, but sophomore year they were together again, living as roommates through their senior year at Winthrop House.
Though they are intense rivals in the water, they also love seeing each other succeed. In 2008, Bill qualified for the Olympic Swimming Trials and for the past two years has qualified for the NCAA championships. Dan was thrilled his brother was able to compete on such a grand stage. When Dan, who had been sidelined for much of his final swimming season with an illness, made it back to the pool and shone at this year’s Ivy championships, the loudest cheers came from Bill.
“He didn’t just get best times,” said Bill, “he got best times by a significant margin, which is incredible.”
The Jones brothers are both organismic and evolutionary biology concentrators, and, as in the pool, have relied on each other for academic support. Both did their senior theses on different aspects of the Charles River. In their spare time, when not studying or swimming, their aquatic interest extends to their hobby of wooden fish carving, a skill they largely picked up on their own. What began as a childhood effort to carve fishing lures out of backyard willow tree branches has grown into a successful business. Today both are accomplished artists able to create intricately hand-carved and painted works of art.
But after graduation, their close connection will be severed by distance for the first time. Bill is headed to San Diego to pursue a Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Dan will remain on the East Coast to study for medical school entrance exams.
“Hopefully, without each other we will still accomplish something,” laughed Dan, who intends to go into cardiology or possibly heart surgery.
And though their competitive swimming careers are over, some day the two hope to complete an Ironman Triathlon. Together.