The differences between Katherine and Emily Shields are subtle.
That's the preference of the twin sisters from Salisbury, who both run star in national cross country and cycling events and have led the Hornets down courses and around tracks for much of their four years at the school. They both also signed with Lees-McRae recently, adding to their commonalities, which include the same color earrings, fingernails, and hair tips, which are blue on the day their signing with Lees-McRae was honored by the school.
"They're so quirky and I love them for it," Salisbury coach Meagan Robinson said. "They love cycling and they love running and to be able to do what they love is great."
The twins generally ran alongside each other during cross country and cycling races with their times evident of that.
Of course, the similarities eventually end somewhere along the line.
"People say I'm quiet, but that's because she talks a lot," says Emily, who was born a minute earlier. On the track, Emily sticks to the shorter runs while Katherine prefers distance. Their love of running and biking started early.
"I remember when we were little we would go to races with our parents and we'd do the kids race," Emily said. "50 meters riding our bikes,"
The hilly terrain of the mountain landscape that graces Banner Elk provides a challenge for both of them.
"When we go to cross country meets or bike races at other places, the altitude training will have helped us," said Katherine, who started cycling when she was 10 and began road racing at 12. "We'll just be stronger."
Emily was the 2010 2A Central Carolina Conference Runner of the Year, winning the conference meet and placing second at the 2A regional meet. She carries a personal best-time of 19:48 and helped the Hornets earn third in the state meet. Emily was second in the national cycle cross meet last year with Katherine placing fourth. Katherine's personal best 5k clocks in at 19:54, which she ran at the Foot Locker Invitational in Charlotte her junior year. Katherine says they started cycle cross at 10 and began road racing at 12. Since then, they've run or cycled nearly every weekend.
"There's more technical stuff in cycling," Emily said. "At a cycle cross race, you'll be going around turns and you don't want to go too fast and you can recover on the turns. In Cross country, you're going hard the whole time."
Katherine compliments her sister as a better sprinter. Does Emily take that as a compliment?
"Yes," she says empathically.
Emily won the 2A Central Carolina Conference championship meet with a 20:10 time this year with Katherine crossing the finish line in 20:25. Salisbury didn't lose during the regular season.
The twins also considered Appalachian State, but the lack of a competitive cycling team gave the edge to Lees-McRae. They received scholarships for both sports at Lees.
"At App, we would to choose between cycling and running and at Lees-McRae, we can do both," Katherine said.
"They've been the backbone of our team," Robinson said. "I don't even want to think about our team without them."