When the Fardin twins were 17, their family friend and lacrosse coach invited them to practice. The brothers thought they were coming to observe.
“The next thing we know, the coach is giving us sticks, and he’s like, ‘alright, there you go, start passing and we’ll see you next practice,” Didier Fardin said. “From then on, we showed up every day.”
Didier and Gabriel Fardin, 22, loved playing at their high school in Lexington, Kentucky, so much, they pursued college lacrosse. The twins chose to attend Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, and are set to both graduate next year with double majors in exercise science, Spanish and possibly education, always taking the same classes with each other.
The brothers always come in a set: in school, lacrosse and otherwise.
“Everything usually comes package deal,” Didier said. “Either we’re both in, or we’re both out.”
The bond between the Fardin twins is strong, which makes sense for any pair of siblings. But for as connected as Didier and Gabriel have been their entire lives, their relationship with outside family hasn’t always been there.
When the twins were 3 and living in Panama, their parents split. Their French father moved back to France, while their Panamanian mother remained in the country with the children. The brothers and mother moved from Panama to Kentucky five years later, where they’ve been since.
For years, the only contact between Didier and Gabriel and their biological father was annual birthday wishes via text, if even. The brothers vaguely knew of the existence of a half sister in France, but they had never met. The path to reconnecting never seemed to be paved.
“We tried to talk maybe once every year, but there was nothing to talk about,” Didier said. “It was kind of awkward. It really came down to really short conversations.”
In 2014, the Fardins watched every single game of the World Championships in Denver. They watched the French team, and together they discussed how cool it would be to play lacrosse in France. At the time, it wasn’t financially possible, but they kept the idea in the backs of their minds.
After a couple of years, they reached out to the French coaching staff about tryouts, hoping to find a place on the 2018 World Championships squad. They got a call back, and in June 2017, the Fardin twins finally went to France for the first time after hearing their mother, who lived there for years before going back to Panama, rave about it during their childhoods.
With the trip to France planned, the brothers talked about trying to meet with their family. They reached out and learned of two more half sisters, 3 and 4 years old at the time, and made tentative plans to meet if time permitted. At midnight one night, their father came to their hotel, picked them up and drove the two an hour away to the outskirts of Paris and surprised their siblings.
Didier and Gabriel stayed up until 4 a.m. with their father and sisters, doing what they could to use hours to make up for lost years. They met one more time while the brothers were still in the country, having dinner for a few hours the day before they were set to leave.
It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Now more than a year on, the brothers have relationships with each of their sisters and father. They spent their three-week winter break in France with their family. There’s a bit of a language barrier among the brothers and their youngest sisters with Didier and Gabriel losing a lot of the French they used to know as children, but they take it in stride.
They talk often to their oldest sister, now 16. They consistently tease her for anything they can , especially boys, always asking if the boy on her Snapchat is her boyfriend, and if so, they’re going to need to talk to him.
“We missed bothering her in childhood, so we bother her in anything we can,” Gabriel explained. “We have to make up for that, and she takes it well.”
Finally, they’re all part of each other’s lives.
The brothers said they think they would have united with their French family at some point, but without lacrosse, there’s no knowing of how long that would have taken. Certainly without the opportunity to try out for Team France, it would have been a few more years, they said.
Lacrosse has given the Fardins their family and then some. Through college, they’ve used lacrosse as a motivator to buckle down in the classroom to remain on the field. Without lacrosse, attending college together might not have been possible.
But beyond all that, lacrosse has given Didier and Gabriel something less tangible.
“This gave us an identity,” Gabriel said.
This article was originally published July 19, 2018.