Family can be defined in many ways. It can be blood-related, figuratively speaking (as in close friends,) or in relation to the type of tight-knit group often found in a sports environment.
For a set of Hillsboro twins recovering from a family tragedy, it came in the form of a school, its faculty and a team they hold close to their hearts.
"We love Faith 100 percent," the sisters agreed. "We've just found a special connection with the people there."
Sarah and Katie Fajer are standout athletes and rising seniors at Faith Bible High in Hillsboro. They play basketball and compete in track and field for the Faith Falcons, doing so since leaving Glencoe following the death of their father during their sophomore year. But since their arrival at the 2A school of fewer than 150 students, they've established the type of personal relationship not even they knew they yearned for.
"At big schools, you meet people but for the most part they're just acquaintances," said Katie. "But at Faith everything is so personal, and I've found I really enjoy that."
Katie and Sarah have always been close, as twins often are. But while some are known to try and separate themselves from their "identical" other, the Fajers embrace their other half while simultaneously celebrating their own unique identities.
"We're very different and our friends and family know that," said Katie. "But being twins has also opened a lot of doors for us. People want to be around you when you're young because you're twins, so it's allowed us to meet people and do things we might not have been able to meet or do if not."
Their basketball coach agrees with Katie, noting their differences.
"Both are very unique individuals," said Eddie Kirkpatrick, Faith Bible varsity girls basketball coach. "They're totally different players and people in general."
Leadership, intensity, compassion
Kirkpatrick saw that firsthand during his first full year as their coach. He saw the Fajers' skills on the court that led the Falcons to a 25-2 overall record and Northwest League championship, but also the leadership, intensity and compassion they showed off of it that helped sculpt his roster into a cohesive group.
"Both have very high standards," said Kirkpatrick. "They expect every game to be played as best as it can be, and they hold their teammates to that same standard."
Sarah averaged 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, two assists, 4.4 steals and 2.2 blocks per game last season, while Katie tallied 16.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 3.7 steals and 1.4 blocks. Both were first-team all-league selections. Katie was an honorable mention all-state selection, and Sarah was the Northwest League Player of the Year while earning first-team all-state honors.
Unfortunately for Kirkpatrick, the Fajers and their "tight-knit group," regular season success didn't translate to the postseason, where Faith was defeated in the first round of the state playoffs by Weston McEwen from Eastern Oregon. But while losing was difficult, it wasn't the toughest thing for Katie and Sarah to deal with.
"It was just tough knowing the season was over," said Sarah. "I love to win, but you can't enjoy winning unless you enjoy the people you're winning with. It was sad knowing I'd played my last game with some of those girls."
The outcome may have been different if not for an untimely injury. Sarah suffered a serious ankle injury prior to the league championship game versus Vernonia, and Kirkpatrick — despite numerous attempts by Sarah to convince him otherwise — decided it was in her best interest to sit things out. The Falcons won the game without her, but with a little extra time to heal, nothing was going to stop Sarah from playing in the game against Weston McEwen.
"I was so determined to play the game," said Sarah. "They asked me if I could play and I said, 'yes!'"
Not long into the game, Sarah aggravated the injury. The resulting loss was a tough defeat, but one that has inspired the girls to work toward next season.
"We're going for a ring next year," Katie said. "We're going to give it everything we've got."
May go to different colleges
After high school, both Katie and Sarah are planning on attending college, but while both are looking at smaller schools, they're also looking at different schools so they'll likely be apart for the first time in their lives.
"Thinking of going to college is kind of weird," said Sarah. "We're not thinking of going to the same place, so when people meet me they'll meet me with no idea I'm even a twin.
"That's weird and cool to think about."
Sarah is thinking of studying business and organizational psychology, while Katie wants to study international business due to her affinity for business in general, coupled with a desire to travel.
"I want to see as much of the world as possible," Katie said.
It's a possibility, but neither seem overly concerned with playing beyond high school and Sarah actually has her eye on track and field more so than the hardwood.
"A small school talked to me about basketball, but I'm more interested in doing track," Sarah said.
The senior-to-be competed in both the shot put and discus last season, but while waiting around after practice for Katie — who throws the javelin — Sarah was convinced to try high jump by coach Amy Kirkpatrick (Eddie's wife). She finished sixth in the 2A state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene this past spring.
"My form is atrocious," said Sarah with a chuckle. "But now I can work on it!"
In addition to her sixth place in the high jump, Sarah finished ninth in the shot put at state, while her sister finished eighth.
That sits fine with Sarah. The girls definitely say they compete, but never to the detriment of their relationship.
"Sarah inspires me to play and play better," said Katie. "We're very competitive with each other, but it never gets ugly. We've always pushed each other to be better."
And that's something they say applies both on the court and off.