Twin sisters Claire and Chloe Gruenke have each other's back. Literally.
Claire gave Chloe a piggyback ride during a state track meet race Saturday after Chloe fell to the ground in pain.
The Wesclin Junior High eighth graders finished the 800-meter race at the State Junior High Track Meet in Carterville in last place. But that didn't matter to the fans who were on their feet, cheering and taking photographs.
"They didn't win the race, but they won the hearts of everyone in the audience," said Coach Ted Crail.
Earlier in the day, Claire won first place in the mile with a time of 5:23.
"I couldn't really move, my body was just so exhausted," she said. "I couldn't really talk because it took too much energy. "
Then, it was time for both girls to run the 800-meter race.
While trying to stay with the pack, Chloe said she opened up her stride too much and felt "something pull or pop."
"I just fell to the ground," she said.
Claire, who was running in last place, stopped to help her sister.
"I told her, 'You've got to finish this race,' so I put her on my back," Claire said.
Claire carried her more than 350 meters.
"I was just proud that I was able to do that, but also happy that she was able to finish it," Claire said.
With fans standing and clapping, Claire set down Chloe just before the finish.
"She wanted me to finish first," Chloe said.
In the end, they crossed the finish line together. They said that felt just as good as winning a medal.
"I've been coaching for 20 years," Crail said. "This was the first time I ever had tears in my eyes at one of the meets."
Crail witnessed the sisters' bond at the qualifying regional track meet May 1 in Centralia.
After Claire qualified to run the mile at state, she let Chloe finish in second -- just in front of Claire -- in the 800, so both sisters could race at state. Claire's third-place time was good enough for her to qualify to run the 800 at state, Crail said.
"I was already going (to state) in the 1600, and the 800 was her race," Claire said. "So I wanted her to go for it."
Both girls, of New Baden, plan to run track next year as freshmen at Wesclin Senior High School in Trenton.
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2460.