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Sister acts For the Sullivans and Symoniaks, running runs in the family

It's fun to be good at something, but what is it like to excel in the same sport as your sister?

Each year, Western New York sends its top cross-country runners to the state level after qualifying in the sectional meet. This year, two pairs of sisters went to Queensbury, outside Lake George, to run against the elite high school runners of New York State.

Kalie and Emily Sullivan, sisters from West Seneca West, come from a running family, as do Mia and Brenna Symoniak, sisters from Amherst. The Sullivan girls have an older and a younger sister who run. Mia and Brenna's older brother ran competitively in high school, their mom runs marathons competitively, and their dad runs.

Kalie, a sophomore, and Emily, a freshman, run cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track. They have both been running for five years after meeting their current coach, Emilio Mancino. "We decided to join a track program one summer at West Seneca West High School, and we've been running ever since," says Emily.

Now, instead of going to summer programs, the girls run together at Chestnut Ridge. "We train and race together," says Emily. "We both learn as we go, but it has helped having Kalie because she has done this before."

Kalie didn't run at states last year after accidentally breaking the strict no-jewelry dress code at sectionals. "I got disqualified when I crossed the finish line," she explains. "I was wearing rings -- I forgot that I had them on because I was wearing gloves when the race started, and I didn't notice them when I threw my gloves off as I was running."

Kalie and Emily enjoy being on the same team. "We raced together all of the time in junior high, so to have that again is really nice," says Kalie. "My sister and I get along really well; it's good to have her to run with," adds Emily.

"Emily is able to bounce things off of Kalie because Kalie has already been there and through it," says Mancino, their coach. "It also helps Kalie to train with Emily because they are never far apart from each other. A lot of times teams have a top runner and that girl has to run by herself or with the boys."

"When races don't go as well as Emily wants them to, I tell her that I've been there and that things will get better," says Kalie.

Mia, this year's co-captain of Amherst's cross country team, is a senior at Amherst. Her sister, Brenna, is an eighth grader at Amherst Middle. Both girls were inspired by their family to run. "In seventh grade, my brother signed me up for the high school cross country team at Williamsville North without really telling me," says Mia. "I didn't have much say in the matter, but I'm glad he did it." The Symoniaks moved from Williamsville to Amherst when Mia was a junior.

"Since my whole family runs, all of the parents at my brother and sister's meets would ask me if I was going to, too," says Brenna. "I just thought running looked like so much fun, and it is!"

Mia especially was an inspiration for Brenna. "When I was younger, I wanted to be just as fast as her, and I wanted to go out and try my hardest just like she did," Brenna says.

Brenna does seem to be following in Mia's footsteps; she is the first eighth grader to ever run varsity cross country for Amherst. "I like the competition running for high school, and the races are longer than in modified," she says. "I wanted to get in shape, and I knew I could do it."

To run for Amherst High, Brenna first had to pass a variety of physical tests. "I had to do sprinting drills, pushups, and run a mile and a half in less than 12 minutes and 20 seconds," she says. This was no problem for Brenna, who can run the mile in under six minutes.

"It worked out really well to have two sisters together. This year is the only time Brenna will be able to run on the same team as Mia," says Bob O'Donnell, Amherst's cross-country coach. "One day they will look back on this experience and say how it was a special time in their lives."

Mia runs cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. "I take some time off in between seasons, but running is pretty much a year-round sport if you are competitive," she says. Mia also runs at AIM High running camp over the summer. Brenna wants to go to running camp this year, too.

Under Mia's captainship, the Amherst girls team qualified for states for the first time in about 20 years. "I am extremely proud of our team because everyone worked so hard to achieve what we did," she says.

Emily is most proud of qualifying for states as a freshman, just as Brenna's greatest running accomplishment thus far is qualifying for states as an eighth grader. Kalie is proud to have made it to the federations meet this year, which she qualified for at states.

All four girls plan to run in college. Cross country is also the four girls' favorite running season. Brenna sums up their feelings: "I don't like running around in circles on a track. I like different courses, longer distances, running in the woods, and when there are more people in a race."

Justine Januskiewicz is a freshman at Fredonia State College.

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