When twin sisters Aileen and Brianne Gallagher are healthy, they are among the best all-time cross country runners at Hickman High School.
But the most difficult obstacle for them has been injuries that have tested how dedicated they are to running.
“Running is who I am,” Aileen said. “It’s not something I love because I’ve been good at it or because it comes easily. Running has really made me test my limits and examine my aspirations.”
Brianne said running is a part of who she is, too. The more she runs, the more she loves it. While she admits fighting through her injuries has been particularly tough, she said it’s all been worth it.
Aileen broke her hip in the spring of her sophomore year and began getting back into shape the spring of her junior year. Brianne had to recover from lung surgery before her freshman year.
“They had to learn to back off at times with their injuries,” coach Steve Kissane said. “It’s been hard to do since they both want to be the best they can be. The girls like to push and challenge themselves, but that can lead to more injuries.”
Hickman teammate Janelle Cordia has run with the Gallaghers since seventh grade and said she is not surprised they have been able to overcome their injuries.
“They are very determined and dedicated,” Cordia said, “so they pretty much do whatever it takes to get things done.”
That dedication of working through their injuries comes from their early experiences with running, Aileen said. Their middle school coaches, Richard Hessler and Margaret Shimkus, made the sport fun for them and are two of their biggest influences, Aileen said.
The devotion and time commitment Aileen and Brianne put into their sport leaves little surprise that it’s what they do for fun.
Cordia said Aileen and Brianne rarely take a day off from running.
“Even if it’s Christmas Day, they will be out there running,” Cordia said.
Running on Christmas Day might not appeal to some, but to Kurt Schauwecker, Hickman senior and seven-year teammate of the Gallaghers’, it is not that surprising.
“Nothing seems to stop them,” Schauwecker said. “Everything they do, they do well. They have become the role models on the girls’ side.”
Being role models on a team might lead one to think the Gallaghers are outspoken leaders. But the two are rather quiet. So they lead by example as silent leaders, Kissane said.
“Both are very focused and expect the team to be focused,” Cordia said. “When they feel people need to step up, then they will voice their opinions.”
Kissane said a lot of their leadership happens when they are out on the course. But just because the two are quiet does not mean they lack an aggressive spirit, he said.
“They are very competitive in a quiet way,” he said, “but you can see their intensity when they race and talk to other runners.”
That trait doesn’t necessarily mean Aileen and Brianne are competitive with each other.
“It’s more like we help each other get better because if one of us is successful, it can be frustrating for the other,” Brianne said.
The two describe their relationship as very close because of the amount of time twins inevitably spend with each other.
They do rely on each other to a certain extent, Aileen said.
Aileen said they are very independent because they set their own standards and have different personalities. When Brianne was recovering from her leg injuries, Kissane gave her a lot of time to be independent and to try her own techniques to overcome the injury.
“I’ve had to go through a lot of trial and error with my injuries to figure out what works for me,” Brianne said. “Coach Kissane gave me a lot of leeway in my training and my decisions.”
Rehabbing from injuries takes up a lot of time and requires a diligent work ethic, Kissane said. The commitment involved with running does not give Aileen and Brianne a lot of free time.
With what little time they do have, the two volunteer for the Columbia Track Club and Trireme, a service organization at Hickmanthat participates in such community activities as answering calls for the Muscular Dystrophy telethon and printing labels for diabetes mailings. That leaves them with almost no free time.
“By being so involved in things,” Aileen said, “it’s no big deal to me if I’m doing homework on a Friday night.”
Even though the two spend a lot of their free time on homework, there is still room for them to pull practical jokes on each other.
“Brianne put a ‘Kick me’ sign on my back once,” Aileen said, “Some feisty middle-aged women actually did kick me in Panera.”
To get Brianne back, Aileen and some friends devised a plan involving a shower and a bouillon cube. She planned to place a bouillon cube in the shower while Brianne was in there so that the hot water would dissolve the bouillon. Thus, Brianne would smell like meat when she was done showering. But Aileen said the shower was not conducive to cooking a bouillon cube so she has not gotten Brianne back. Yet.
Brianne and her mother, Barbara, laugh in the background since this was the first the two of them had heard of Aileen’s joke.
“I didn’t know about that!” Brianne exclaimed.
It is that type of humor that Brianne said connects her and Aileen the most.
“We have a weird sense of humor that most people don’t understand,” Aileen said. “People don’t find the same things funny that we do.”
The Gallaghers are also similar in their study habits. Kissane said they are tremendous students who often do homework at practice. Brianne is a National Merit semi-finalist.
“We get made fun of a lot by our teammates because we bring our homework everywhere,” Brianne said. “If there’s a break in practice, we do our homework.”
Aileen said she and Brianne are independently motivated when it comes to schoolwork and life in general. Their family has allowed them to create their own paths and choose for themselves what is most important, Aileen said.
That family includes two older brothers and one older sister, who are all in their mid- to late 20s. Despite the large discrepancies in age, Aileen said her siblings are supportive even if they cannot be there for their meets.
“They share in our success, but they will be there whether we do well or not,” Brianne said.