For 16 years, sisters Amanda and Caitlyn Fillard shared a bedroom. Though Amanda is two years older, they had most of the same friends. They spent countless hours in the car together before spending even more time in the gym together. They were inseparable.
So when Amanda received a full scholarship for gymnastics to North Carolina State and headed south for her freshman year in 2013, the 560 miles separating the two sisters wasn't going to do anything to fracture their relationship.
And come fall, they'll be back together again -- in North Carolina -- now that Caitlyn, too, has committed to N.C. State.
"I'm on Long Island and she's away at school, but we still push each other all the time. We talk every day," said Caitlyn, a Newfield High School senior. "She's still my biggest influence."
When the time came for Caitlyn to accept her full scholarship offer, a teary-eyed Amanda could hardly remain composed and keep a steady hand while she taped her sister's phone call with Wolfpack coach Mark Stevenson.
"I was so proud," said Amanda, now a sophomore at N.C. State, "knowing she worked her butt off, just like I did, to get a scholarship and that we were going to be at the same school again."
The Fillard sisters' bond, coupled with a fierce passion for gymnastics -- they've practiced for three hours a day, five days a week, every week since they were about 4 years old -- has landed them in exclusive territory. Not many sisters have gone on to be teammates on a major Division I gymnastics program (N.C. State finished 25th in the official NCAA final rankings), let alone receive full scholarship offers.
"It's very unusual," Stevenson said. "They're our first-ever set of sisters."
Added Carlos Harper, their coach at New Image Gymnastics in Brentwood: "I've been in the sport for 17 years, and haven't really seen two sisters going to the same Division I school on full rides. It's incredibly rare."
When Amanda and Caitlyn were toddlers, their joy was evident in the form of a small balance beam in the Fillard's living room. It was their favorite spot. The two sisters frequently wore their leotards around the house, just for the fun of it. And they even watched television upside down, hanging off the couch.
"I remember when Caitlyn was in kindergarten or preschool, she drew a picture of her family," said Jennifer Leckie, Amanda and Caitlyn's mother. "Everybody's a regular, upright, stick-figure, except for Amanda, who she drew as an upside-down stick-figure. That's how Caitlyn always saw her."
Through high school, Amanda and Caitlyn trained year-round at New Image, a 30-minute car ride from their home in Centereach. In 2009 and 2011, Amanda's all-around score earned her 13th place at Nationals. In 2012, Caitlyn finished eighth in the country.
"They've always been naturally gifted," said Harper, who, along with Robin Thomas, has coached the Fillard sisters at New Image for 14 years, "but it's all their hard work in the gym that's allowed them to hold on to their talent."
At N.C. State, Amanda has gotten acclimated to an even more rigorous training schedule.
"It took Amanda some time, but she's made the adjustments," Stevenson said. "We graduated seven seniors last year. She knew she was going to have to fill a void, and she has.
"And Caitlyn is one of the best vaulters that we'll ever have come to N.C. State."
Come next fall, Amanda and Caitlyn will be teammates again, living in the same apartment complex in Raleigh, North Carolina. For best friends, this was the dream outcome.
"It was our goal all along to get college scholarships," Amanda said. "Now we can share this experience together. "