Training with a twin has its advantages, girls say

It's hard to tell identical twins Katherine and Emily Shields apart when they're standing still. It's even harder when they're just a blur whizzing by on bicycles.

If you're downtown today, you might see them as they take part in the North Carolina State Games Criterium, a bike race that will run between Spring and Poplar streets.

They wear identical uniforms and have nearly identical Specialized brand bicycles, the only difference being the handlebars - Katherine's are white, and Emily's are red.

The best clue as to who is who may come from their dark brown hair. They dye the tips, sometimes in the same color, but Emily races in braids, while Katherine sports ponytails.

Emily said there's an advantage to training with a twin.

"You always have someone to push yourself against," she said.

The girls, now 17, have been racing bikes since they were about 10 and are good enough to have earned a mixed academic and athletic scholarship from Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, which has an elite cycling program.

Part of their early interest in cycling comes from their father, Kerry Shields, who has been a bike-race promoter for more than 20 years.

Kerry Shields, who owns Shields Signs on Country Club Road, said the girls have their own competitive fire that makes them push themselves.

"I don't drive them to do this," he said. "They're self-motivators."

Katherine and Emily just graduated from Salisbury High School, where they ran cross country and were on the indoor and outdoor track teams.

They ride about 40 miles a day, six to seven days a week when training. Although they live in Salisbury, they often ride the bike routes around Lewisville, a popular area for bikers with its long, scenic roads.

Their biking skills have taken them to races as far away as Oregon and California and, while they like road races such as today's criterium, their real passion is for cyclo-cross, which is run on trails in more natural terrain.

"Cyclo-cross has always been my favorite," Katherine said. "Every course is different. And when you crash, it doesn't hurt as bad."