After a grueling summer preparing for the World Rowing Junior Championships, the Ratcliff sisters finished their summer break with silver medals around their necks.
Georgia and Carolina Ratcliff both rowed for the U.S. Junior National team — Georgia on the junior women's four and Carolina for the junior women's eight — and both U.S. boats walked away with second-place finishes in Plovdiv, Bulgaria last month.
"It was incredible," said Georgia, a senior at Madison High School. "It was great to win silver, and even better to have my sister be there with me and win, as well."
Carolina described the intense atmosphere before the championship — starting with tryouts during which "the coaches are nothing but hard on you" to the two-a-day practices once they made the team — as "draining, physically and emotionally."
But the payoff of winning the silver medal made it all worth it, and only made stronger their desire to achieve more within the sport of rowing.
The Madison High students have competed with the school's crew team since entering high school, following in the footsteps of their older sister, Virginia. Both Georgia and Carolina were selected as All-Met First Team rowers last spring. The sisters also rowed together on Madison's first eight boat, which .
Though both keep the other competitive, neither view the other as competition. The one-year age difference has proven to be enough to keep them from competing for the same spots throughout their careers so far.
Instead, Carolina, a junior at Madison, has always seen Georgia as a mentor to help guide her in achieving her dreams of improving enough to compete on the U-23 National team — a goal Georgia shares and hopes she can achieve alongside her younger sister.
"We're really good peers. When we're in the same boat, I know she's going to put everything into it. It's always incredible to be in a boat or on a team with her," Carolina said. "I can always ask her for advice, how to do something better or how to fix my stroke or if I'm doing something wrong. She's a very good role model. I think I respect her more than anyone else in this sport."
The friendly dynamic is not only a relief to Paul Allbright, Madison High's crew coach for the past five years, but also a benefit, as both serve as effective leaders in a lesser-known sport filled with athletes who rarely have experience before entering high school.
"They are definitely two of the most focused, driven, motivated young ladies I've ever coached," Allbright said. "I really think they are great examples of what the right thing is to do, from a training perspective, as well. They have a lot of natural talent, but I think it's their work ethic that has brought them their success. ... And their success makes it real that it is possible for kids from Vienna, Virginia to represent the United States."
The Ratcliffs' rowing careers are just beginning, if they have anything to say about it, and they both plan to put in even more work to make sure they can continue at a higher level.
"I never mind not having much spare time and training all the time. Because honestly, if I'm doing what I like to do and training with people I like to train with, then there's nothing more rewarding than that," Georgia said. "There's nothing better than that feeling of challenging yourself."