How rare are triplets?
Number of twin births in 2012: 131,269
Number of triplet births: 4,598
Number of quadruplet births: 276
Number of quintuplets and other high-number births: 45
Twin birth rate: 33.1 per 1,000 live births
Triplet or high-number birth rate: 124.4 per 100,000 live births
SOURCE: Births: Final Data for 2012, Center for Disease Control
The approach of high school graduation is a hectic time for high school seniors and their families. Months before graduation, students completed college applications, took college entrance exams, posed for senior portraits, and ordered graduation announcements, their cap and gown and tickets to the big event. Their parents filled out forms to determine how much financial aid their child can receive, and then pulled out their checkbooks.
Now imagine tripling the activity, stress and expense of senior year. That's the experience of three Clark County families who have triplets graduating from high school this month. Nicole, Tanner and Troy Blake will graduate from Union High School on June 11. Ben, Joe and Sam Howard will graduate from Mountain View High School on June 12. Hannah, Jacob and Mac Wright will graduate from Washougal High School on June 14.
'Always there for each other'
The Blake triplets • Union High School
• Notable achievement: Top 5 percent of her class, national merit commended scholar, American Association of University Women's Women in Science Award, National Advance Placement Scholar.
• College: Duke University.
• Major: Visual and Media Studies.
• Career goal: Sports broadcaster.
• Favorite food: Chipotle burritos.
• Favorite hangout: Anywhere outside (hiking, the beach).
• Favorite activity: Soccer.
• Favorite triplet time together: Late-night study sessions when we can't stop laughing.
• Notable achievement: Top 5 percent of his class, 4.0 GPA, AP Scholar with Distinction, DECA state qualifier.
• College: University of Washington.
• Major: Business Administration.
• Career goal: Unknown.
• Favorite food: Chocolate.
• Favorite hangout: Chipotle.
• Favorite activity: Soccer.
• Favorite triplet time together: Doing homework.
• Notable achievement: Top 5 percent of his class, National AP Scholar, captain of the varsity tennis team.
• College: Purdue University.
• Major: Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering.
• Career goal: Roller coaster designer.
• Favorite food: Shrimp.
• Favorite hang out: Silver Star Mountain.
• Favorite activity: Orchestra.
• Favorite triplet time together: Playing sports outside.
Sometimes it's frustrating being a triplet, says Nicole, the oldest Blake triplet. When a teacher learned Nicole was a triplet with two brothers, she asked whether they were all identical.
"Um, no," Nicole said, shaking her head. "I'm a girl."
Surprisingly, in the past 18 years, many people have asked them the same obvious question about the triplets who were born within a two-minute period.
"It's kind of crazy that we've been together for 18 years, and now we're headed separate ways," Nicole said.
Separate ways is an understatement. In the fall, Troy plans to study business administration at the University of Washington in Seattle. Tanner plans to pursue a mechanical or aerospace engineering degree at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., with a career goal of designing roller coasters. Nicole will be at Duke University in Durham, N.C., studying visual and media studies, with her sights set on becoming a sports broadcaster.
Tanner and Nicole will be the closest, though still 666 miles apart. Nicole and Troy will be the farthest apart, with 2,850 miles between them. Next school year, they likely will be together only during Christmas break. With potential internships and jobs, even getting together next summer will be questionable.
"I come home from school every day, and they're there," Nicole said. "We eat after school together and we do our homework together and we always know what each other's doing. It's going to be weird going off and having a roommate who's not my triplet and not at the same stage of life at all times. And having to call them to catch up instead of just walking into their room. Like 'Hey, how do you do this homework problem?' or 'What are you doing tonight? Want to hang out?'?"
"It's true we're always there for each other," Tanner agreed. "I kind of pretend that I'm not going to miss them," he said. "But when I get there (to college), I know I will."
Troy said there could be a benefit to splitting up, adding: "It will be cool to kind of get our own personalities."
"At school, they know us as the triplets," Tanner said. "Now we're going off on our own. People ask me all the time why don't they play the violin and I play soccer," he said. "We're all different."
An affinity for music
The Howard triplets • Mountain View High School
• Notable achievement: None mentioned.
• College: Whatcom Community College, Bellingham.
• Major: Music.
• Career goal: Musician.
• Favorite food: Pizza.
• Favorite hang out: Pearl District, Portland.
• Favorite activity: Band.
• Favorite triplet time together: Playing video games.
• Notable achievement: 2nd place in baritone saxophone at the state solo and ensemble competition.
• College: Clark College.
• Major: Undecided.
• Career goal: Construction, chiropractic or music performer or educator.
• Favorite food: Carrots, fish tacos, cookies.
• Favorite hang out: My house.
• Favorite activity: Music.
• Favorite triplet time together: Playing sports together.
• Notable achievement: Drum major of Mountain View High School band, All-State band 2013, first chair trombone all-district honor band in 2012 and 2013.
• College: Central Washington University.
• Major: Music.
• Career goal: "No idea! Any option is open!"
• Favorite food: Burgers, steak.
• Favorite hang out: My house, the collective hangout spot for all my friends.
• Favorite activity: Music, Mountain View band program.
• Favorite triplet time together: "When we were younger, we spent every day just hanging out playing sports or video games with each other all the time."
Of the three sets of Clark County triplets who are graduating seniors, the Howard triplets are the only ones who are all the same sex — thus the only ones with the chance of being identical. But they've never tried switching places with another triplet.
"We look and act so different," Sam said. "That would be impossible."
His brothers agree.
Indeed, no one could mistake one Howard triplet for another. Physically, each has his own distinct look. Joe is taller with an angular face, closely cropped hair and wears size 11 shoes. Ben has a broader face, facial hair and longer hair that partially covers his ears. Both he and Sam wear size 9 shoe. But Sam's face is more angular and he wears shorter hair, but not as short as Joe's.
Despite their differences, Joe, Ben and Sam share an affinity for music. All three brothers are musicians with leadership roles in the Mountain View High School band. Joe, who plays guitar and bass, is section leader. Ben plays saxophone and is the band's equipment manager. Sam plays trombone and is drum major.
"We've had a lot of working-together opportunities," Sam said.
For two years, Joe was the only one with a driver's license.
"He drove us and all our friends around,"Ben said.
But their years of spending every day together and playing music in the same band will end with graduation.
In the fall, all three are heading to different colleges. Sam plans to attend Central Washington University in Ellensburg to study music. Ben will attend Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, with hopes of transferring to Western Washington University. He also plans to major in music. Joe will live at home and attend Clark College. At this point, he's unsure of his major.
"This is going to be a new experience of being away from each other for the first time," Ben said.
"Especially for me," Joe said. "I'm staying at home while they go away. Having those two gone will seem really quiet."
Mountain View triplets
The Wright triplets • Washougal High School
• Notable achievement: Co-valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, American Association of University Women's Women in Science Award.
• College: University of Washington.
• Major: Biomedical and chemical engineering.
• Career goal: Get into research or production for medicine or new energies.
• Favorite food: Anything with noodles.
• Favorite hangout: Any place where she can run or be with friends.
• Favorite activity: Cross country and the Science Olympiad.
• Favorite triplet time together: Jumping on the trampoline as kids.
• Notable achievement: Top 5 percent of his class with a 3.99 GPA.
• College: Western Washington University.
• Major: Vocal performance.
• Career goal: Make a living performing in musical theater or with an opera company.
• Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese.
• Favorite hang out: Washougal High School auditorium.
• Favorite activity: Performing on stage.
• Favorite triplet time together: Roaming around their grandparents' property in Willamina, Ore.
• Notable achievement: 3.91 GPA, Running Start.
• College: Washington State University.
• Major: Mechanical engineering.
• Career goal: Design prosthetic weaponry.
• Favorite food: Barbecue bacon cheeseburgers.
• Favorite hang out: Camas Public Library.
• Favorite activity: Video games.
• Favorite triplet time together: Going out in boats on the Washougal and Columbia rivers.
When the time came for the Wright triplets to apply for college, only one thing was certain: There was no way any of them were going to the same place.
"Everybody mostly wanted to go to a different college to experience being alone," said Jacob, the youngest of the three.
Jacob and his two siblings, Hannah and Mac, have spent the past 18 years side-by-side-by-side locked in a silent competition that permeates just about every area of their lives. After all that time, the busy bunch is ready to leave home and part ways for their own personal journeys.
Hannah will study biomedical and chemical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. Mac will get into vocal performance at Western Washington University in Bellingham. And Jacob will pursue mechanical engineering at Washington State University in Pullman.
The triplets have shared many friends and interests over the years. Each has dabbled in soccer, track and field, and music while considering careers in engineering.
But all along, they've lived by an unspoken code to never follow in their siblings' footsteps. Hannah says it's worked and their competitive nature always keeps them moving forward.
"It's really funny. A lot of people don't realize we're triplets," she said. "They don't even realize we're related."
Hannah describes herself as the grumpy one. Mac admits he's the hyperactive child. Jacob says he's content just lying on the couch, reciting every line of his favorite movies.
"I can memorize those things, but give me a piece of homework and I just can't," he said.
Despite their differences, the three stuck together throughout middle school and part of high school, often acting shy around others but open with each other. It's hard to imagine how different each would be without the other triplets, Mac said.
"We had each other, and we liked to talk with each other," he said.
Nonetheless, the triplets have always displayed vastly distinct personalities, said their mother, Jennifer Wright. Now, at the end of high school, they're set to continue growing in different directions.
Fascinated by chemistry, Hannah hopes to build a career in medicine or new energies. After a childhood of building things with Legos, Jacob dreams of designing prosthetic weaponry someday. And Mac — who's performed in choir, band and drama throughout high school — felt a natural pull toward a career in music.