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Before Point Loma twins were runners, they played them on TV

Brianna Bartello leads the way with her sister Marissa Bartello (wearing No. 193) a few steps behind at the 2015 PacWest Championships. Point Loma Nazarene University photo

Brianna Bartello was in eighth grade when her doctor insisted she give up playing soccer. “Too many concussions,” she recalls.

Her twin sister, Marissa, quit, too — in solidarity. “It just wouldn’t be the same,” Marissa Bartello says.

Before they ever laced up a pair of running shoes, Brianna and Marissa Bartello portrayed cross country teammates of Sue Heck, played on ABC’s “The Middle” by Eden Sher. The series final airs tonight. AP Photo / Matt Sayles

Their parents, wanting to keep their daughters busy, turned to an extracurricular activity not uncommon in their Laguna Hills, California, hometown: The young twins took up background acting.

Which is how Brianna and Marissa, now leaders on the Point Loma cross country and track and field teams, first laced up their running shoes as actors, not as runners.

The two portrayed cross country teammates of Sue, the Heck family’s middle child in the popular television series “The Middle.” Sue, known for trying out (and getting cut) from several teams, finally found a spot on the “no-cut” cross country team.

The stint lasted five episodes. “Whenever the cross country team was involved in an episode, we were there,” Marissa Bartello says. “We did a lot of running in the show. And then, when we were looking for a sport to do in high school, we thought, ‘How about cross country?’”

After a successful high school cross country career — Brianna finished fourth in the state meet their senior year, while Marissa was a few steps behind in sixth place — the women both joined the Sea Lions cross country and track and field teams. As sophomores in 2016, they helped push Point Loma to its first appearance and a 12th-place finish in the Division II Women’s Cross Country Championships. Brianna earned All-America honors at the meet by placing 37th. Marissa, a two-time all-PacWest selection, holds the school record in steeplechase.

They both are communications majors, though their interests diverge from there. Marissa is interested in journalism, perhaps sports writing; Brianna is leaning toward a career in marketing or social media.

But no matter their future, the small screen gave them their running start.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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