Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Mary Burge
How important is height? Our world perceives us according to our physical attributes. Some folks make judgments according to first impressions. If their perception is positive, we receive good treatment. If it is negative, we receive bad treatment.
A young child's close family members' judgments matter most. On my second birthday Mother measured me and I was exactly three feet tall. I was destined to be six feet tall. She gave me early ballet and swimming lessons in hopes that I would carry myself well despite extravagant height. I loved ballet and swimming. When I raced I would be half way across the pool before others hit the water. Mother admonished, "Mary, stand up straight. Comb your hair. Smile! No one wants a slouching, pouting six-foot girl!" She was right, of course, but she could have left out the part about no one wanting a six-foot girl. To this day I fight to stand “tall and straight.” Thankfully, I've deleted the negative thoughts. Now I love my six-foot frame.
When my daughters Heather and Heidi were learning to walk around age 1, they were the size of most 3-year-olds. Once, their daddy, Larry, was proudly walking down the sidewalk with a twin on either side. The girls were taking each step haltingly with their arms outstretched for balance. They were wobbly and awkward as new walkers are. Two sweet older ladies came walking toward the threesome. As they passed Larry, one woman confided to her friend, "Oh, that poor young man. He has two spastic daughters!" Larry smiled and said nothing. We still remember that comment. We realize that the world's perception is not what counts. It is how the parents see their children that molds their self image. This fact holds true for any out-of-the-ordinary characteristics children might have.
When our twins were 2, I neglected to measure them. I figured it didn't matter how tall they may become. They were our daughters. They were beautiful, talented, and charming. We loved every inch of them. I didn't want them to grow up concentrating on height. What a boring subject! Their daddy has a flair for choosing becoming wardrobes. Early Saturday mornings he would put a helmet on one of the twins, secure her on the back of his motorcycle and ride up to Palos Verdes looking for garage sales. She would try on clothes for her sister and herself. For less than $10 they would select two darling outfits that were almost new. At the age of 6 months we had stopped dressing them alike. I believed they were fraternal twins. The world, including my father, saw them as identical. He requested that they appear at his home in distinct outfits of different colors so he could memorize their names by outfit.
He loved them and was really proud of them. He wanted to be able to call them by their right names. I preferred to emphasize their distinct personalities and from age 4 let them choose what they would wear each day. Heidi took after her father and soon distinguished herself in style and color choice. Heather was more like her mom. She wasted little time in dressing and wasn't particularly interested in making a fashion statement. To this day, Heather prefers the athletic, relaxed look, although she has learned from her sis how to look stunning. Heidi tries to abide by her childhood philosophy, "As long as you have to get dressed anyway, it might as well be fun."
When Heidi enters, heads turn and she flashes a smile that lights up the room. When Heather enters, she attracts a different kind of attention. Hers is a quieter beauty. As she walks up to you, you stand taller and know that you want to meet and talk with her. When both girls walk in together, heads turn, jaws drop, and spectators experience déjà vu. With all the attention they receive, they are still unaffected. They have the ability to make you feel special and liked. They once entertained a young friend from Cambodia whose mother was downstairs at a “home meeting.” When the child came down for dinner, she told her mom that Heather and Heidi really liked her. This meant a lot to me because the mother and daughter had survived a horrific escape from the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia when the father and two brothers had been murdered. The mother was a student in my English as a Second Language class. The daughter was in junior high at the time. She felt really accepted by these younger, towering Americans.
Grandma Dot (Dorothy Munger, my mom) also had a distinctive style. She affirmed Heidi in her stylish dressing. She also bankrolled Cherokee sandals and expensive special-occasion clothing for the girls. She was the one who had suggested that I marry a shorter man so we could have “normal sized children.” She never said a word about that when I married Larry, who is six feet, five inches. In fact, she grew to love Larry for his exuberance and joy of living. He loved her for her openness and sense of humor. She even gave him a year's worth of professional singing lessons. Larry sang to the girls and Heather, as an infant, was enthralled by the sound of his voice.
In our home we played up the advantages of height. We might have over-killed a bit. One day Heather was sitting in our podiatrist's office with me. I was seated with my foot up where the diminutive young doctor could stand and view my bad foot. She was lamenting that she had stopped growing at age 12. Before that she had been taller than most of her friends. But she watched as everyone kept growing through junior high. She had stopped at five feet. Dr. Peggy Magnusson excused herself to get another tool. Heather leaned over towards me and whispered, "Oh, that poor girl! She stopped growing at five feet!" I assured her that Peggy was happy being five feet tall and that God liked variety in His creations.
When the girls entered Palos Verdes High School they were about six feet, one inch tall. The basketball coach, Wendell Yoshida recruited them for the junior varsity basketball team. At first, Heidi wanted to play only volleyball. Her dad convinced her to play basketball for one year and then decide between the two sports. He figured that if she did not play, then Heather would have a leg up on her and she would never catch up. So both twins played basketball for the first time that year. When they made their first basket (it was a play with lots of assists), they jumped up and down and celebrated under the hoop and Wendell had to yell at them to run down to the other hoop and play defense. They smiled sweetly and skipped down the court. The rest of their career is history. They attended the University of Virginia on full basketball scholarships, graduated in June of 1993, played professional ball in Europe – France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Australia, and Belgium. They played for the WNBA. Heidi was on the Mystics, Washington, D.C. and Heather was on the Monarchs, Sacramento. Both were on the L.A. Sparks for a short time.
In 1990 Heather and Heidi were in the Guinness Book of World Records because they were the tallest, female identical twins in the world. They held this title for 15 years.
In 1997 two Disney writers interviewed Heather, Heidi, Larry, and me to see if there might be a good enough story for the basis of a movie. They wrote up the interviews and Disney decided to make the movie. Next, another author wrote an outline of a plot. Then a final author wrote the screenplay for the movie.
By 1999 they started filming the movie and asked Heather and Heidi to play their own parts. Heidi said she’d love to. Heather said she would, too, except she had just signed a contract to play professional basketball in France. Heather was a newlywed, but she went to Europe to play her last season of pro ball. While she was there Poppi Monroe, the actress Disney had hired to play Heather, emailed Heather with questions like, “Would Heidi have said this? Would Heidi have worn this?” Because of the open communication, the actresses did an admirable job of portraying Heather and Heidi. When Heather’s husband Darren Quella watched the movie Double Teamed, which debuted on the Disney Channel in 2002, he kept saying, “That’s my Heather. Yes, that’s Heather!”
Both girls are now moms themselves, living in Houston, Texas. They hold basketball camps to teach children basics afternoons during the school year and for two weeks during the summer.
Mary Burge is the mother of Heidi and Heather Burge, who played basketball internationally and for the WNBA. The Disney Channel film Double Teamed is based on their lives.