Inside the Ehrhart sisters' bedroom hangs a sign that was purchased by their mother shortly before they were born.
It reads, "Don't walk ahead of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me, and be my friend."
It's fitting because Alex and Amanda Ehrhart, sophomores on the Bay Shore girls soccer team, are always at each other's side. As friends, as teammates, as sisters, as twins.
They are not identical. Without knowing them, you wouldn't know they are twins, or even the same age. Mainly because Amanda stands 5-7 and Alex is 4-11.
When Alex was 6 years old, she underwent a 14-hour surgery to remove a benign tumor from her spine. The twins' mother, Maryann Higgins, said the tumor slipped through Alex's spinal cord and went behind her aorta, causing damage to her heart. The tumor began to push her spine into her lung, meaning the spine was growing inward rather than straight.
Higgins said surgeons removed the tumor and reconstructed her spine using part of her ribs, her iliac crest, a bone from a cadaver and titanium rods.
The surgery, though successful, meant she would never grow as tall as she was supposed to.
"Everything that happened to me has made me who I am today," said Alex, 15. "I never used it as an excuse. It has made me work harder. I can still score the winning goal. I can still accomplish anything."
She's become a spark off the bench for the soccer team, for which she uses her speed to beat opponents on the outside, and also is a runner on the track team. She said she occasionally suffers from shortness of breath, tightness in her chest and back pain, but she refuses special treatment on the field.
"Alex has more fight in her than any kid I've coached," soccer coach Megan Conboy said. "She is a kid that doesn't want anyone to make an excuse for her. She works hard to prove that she's able to do everything as well as, if not better than, the girl next to her."
Alex says sports were instrumental in her recovery, as was the support of her sister. When Alex was in the hospital -- again, just 6 years old -- Amanda would sit by her bedside and hold her hand.
"It was the hardest time of my life," Amanda said. "To see everything she has gone through, she is a motivation for others to always keep going."
Amanda, who also plays basketball and lacrosse, has become very protective of her sister, always keeping an eye on her on and off the soccer field.
"She has always been there for me," Alex said. "Without her, I wouldn't be as strong as I am today."
Added Higgins: "You never see one without the other. They have always been inseparable. And they are each other's biggest supporters."
On the soccer team, Alex wears No. 13 and Amanda No. 16. They wanted to be three numbers apart because they were born three minutes apart, Alex said.
Between school, sports and sharing a bedroom all of their lives, they are not accustomed to time apart. During Alex's track meets, Amanda is there to cheer her on. During Amanda's basketball season, Alex is the team manager. They spend every Friday night together participating in the Just for Kicks program, in which they teach children with autism how to play soccer.
The Marauders' soccer season ended Tuesday with a 3-2 victory over Central Islip. It was only the third win for Bay Shore, but to Alex, the success of the season isn't based solely on wins and losses.
"With all of the obstacles, it's an achievement for me just to be playing varsity soccer and to be where I am today," she said. "You can never stop because you've hit a bump in the road. You'll be able to overcome any obstacle and still be able to achieve your dreams."
After the game ended, the first person Alex looked for was Amanda.
"We gave each other a hug," Alex said, "and walked off the field."
Side by side. Just as the sign says.
"We have a very special bond," Amanda said. "We're sisters by chance and friends by choice."