It wasn't always about coming in first for Leah Gifford. Sometimes it was just about running with her sister, Julie.
Even after winning numerous races, being chosen twice as an NCAA All-American, and the recent selection to the Augustana College (S.D.) Athletics Hall of Fame, Gifford, now Gifford Ohme, said that running with her sister was her favorite memory of her accomplished athletic career.
The Balaton natives ran track and cross-country for Tracy-Milroy-Balaton High School and Augustana College in the mid 90's and early 00's.
The Gifford sisters were fast. "There were years where each of them got three medals at the state tourney," said their former high school coach, Al Landa.
They were competitive. "If one of them stepped up, the other one kept right up with them," said their mother Ann Gifford.
They were dedicated. "They were always out there at six o' clock in the morning," said Ann. Swims together across Lake Yankton with Mom in the paddle boat were common. The running never seemed to stop.
"They trained together three hundred and sixty five days a year, almost," said Ann.
"We took races really serious," said Julie, who now goes by Cusher.
Ultimately, they drove each other to be better. Leah, who is three years older than Julie, trained with her younger sister even when she was a freshman. "It was always nice to have the support. We were able to motivate each other. It was always fun to do," said Julie.
The races don't last forever, but being a sister does. The Giffords seemed to grasp the importance of that even at a young age. It was there when Julie cheered on Leah at the finish line of her North Central Conference championship race. It was there when they were partners in the 4x4 relay race at TMB. And it's still there to this day when they go out on runs together.
While Leah lives in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Julie lives in Eagan, that distance hasn't dimmed their enthusiasm for running together. "It's kind of a highlight," said Julie.
The sisters have been out of college for about a decade, but that doesn't mean mom's appreciation has waned either. "The one thing that I enjoy now is when they are home and they put their hair up in ponytails and they go for the five mile run around Lake Yankton," said Ann.
Years later, it's still just about running together.