Maggie Steffens (L) and Jessica Steffens (R) at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games London 2012.
Maggie Steffens and Jessica Steffens are legends in the sport of water polo. Six years her sister’s senior, Jessica is a 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 world champion. Together the Steffenses helped Team USA to its first Olympic women’s water polo gold in 2012, while Maggie went on to defend the title in 2016. They are one of eight sets of U.S. sisters to win an Olympic medal together. Maggie wrote the following letter to Jessica, a 2019 USA Water Polo Hall of Fame inductee, to commemorate National Siblings Day, recognized annually on April 10.
I have looked up to you from day one – literally, you are so much taller than me! Not sure where those genes went by the time I was born. You were my “Queen Jess” and I wanted to be surrounded by you as much as possible (now I understand why this may have been annoying, but c’mon, I was kind of cute!). Like when I used to be at all your soccer games and instead of watching the game like a normal fan I was mimicking everything you were doing on the sideline. I wanted to be just like you and, like any little sister, better – and not just because you were my older sister, but because of how you are as my older sister.
You are competitive and tough – almost scary at times. You are a team player and always have the team’s back – and by team I also mean family. You never, ever give up and you always rise up under pressure when the team needs you most. You are authentic to your unique self and allow others to do the same. You are quirky and intelligent and the best problem solver I know. I was learning these endless values from you just by being in your presence. I truly think it all stems back to one of Dad’s many metaphors: “Always strive to be amongst the best.” To me, that is to be amongst you.
(L): Jessica Steffens competes at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008; (R): "Jess winning silver and me as her biggest fan in 2008"
Ten years ago, I was gifted the opportunity to continue to be in your presence, but in a different way; not only as your annoying little sister, but also as your annoying little teammate and eventually your even more annoying roommate. It is clear to me now that siblings have the biggest impact on who we become in our lives and you have been my most powerful impact. In whatever role you needed to be for me, you were always there: an older sister, the ultimate leader, a coach and mentor, an idol, a bridge onto the national team, a friend, a competitor, a roommate and my best teammate.
And I greatly apologize because I wasn’t the easiest to deal with and, in the moment, didn’t understand how much you had been doing for me and sacrificing for me. I mean you not only committed yourself to full-time training, which requires every ounce of you, but also to living with your teenage sister as she tried to ‘grow up’ and fulfill her dream. So, thank you for being extremely unselfish, for letting me into your life as you basically absorbed all the pressure so I didn’t have to, and, of course, knowing how to solve all our problems in a fun, creative way with a smile. You are amazing. I wouldn’t be who I am today or where I am today without your guidance, support and most importantly your challenges.
"Our family photo wall in our village dorm in London"
See, I think I understand Dad’s metaphor a bit better now: “A bird has two wings. 1, 2. Let’s fly!” You are the type of older sister that sees the potential in us, believes in us and, therefore, challenges us – tough love perhaps. You would go off and fly to incredible places like Stanford University, the Olympic Games and beyond – paving incredible paths, showing us the way and then covering them back up so we had to figure it out our own way. You were always challenging us to be better. And because of that, just like Dad’s saying, you challenged me to find my wings while showing me how to fly. And, at the Olympics, you gave me the courage to set myself free. Through it all, you were my big sister leading the way, but this time, we were side by side, flying together. A bird has two wings. You and me. And damn, did we fly!
Somehow under the most stress, we were flying and truly enjoying it all – thanks to you. After watching you in Beijing in 2008, I knew I never wanted my big sister to feel that pain again; I wouldn’t let that happen and you wouldn’t let that happen to me. We now had each other: it was you and me – two wings. Remember when we were annoyed that Adam made us roomies for the Games because we had just gotten in a stupid fight about the unclean dishes back in our apartment?! Then we got to the Games and made a family and Speedster photo wall to inspire us and realized this was the only and best way to share this experience. It was you and me – two wings. Remember walking around Opening Ceremony side by side, taking it all in and thinking how, no matter what, we were there for one another, to fight for each other’s dream?! It was you and me – two wings.
"Looking all sisterly after winning Olympic gold in London"
Then it happened, we flew! Remember when we stood on top of that podium (moments after an embrace full of love, joy, gratitude and pride) and looked up at our family in the stands as we “cracked the hook”? Well, while you were looking at the stands, I found myself looking up to you – as I always have and always will. I was smiling up at you thinking I am the luckiest girl in the world to share not only this magical moment where you finally received the gold you deserve, but to share a bond stronger than any other: our last name.
I Love You,