Profile: Pioneer twin sisters run side by side all the way to the state finals

When defending state champion Pioneer heads to Saturday’s Division I Girls Track & Field Finals at East Kentwood High School, the team knows that achieving last year’s result might be a tall order. But that won’t keep the Pioneers from trying.

They go into the meet supporting each other, bonded by the ties that go with being teammates. And for two particular Pioneers, those bonds go even further.

Tiffany Cernej-Garcia, 18, who will run the 300-meter hurdles, and her fraternal twin, Kim, who will participate in the 4×400 and 4×800 relays, have been rooting each other on all season, pushing each other to improve, relishing the experience as much as they can.

Kim Cernej-Garcia. Photo by Terry Jacoby

“I love that she’s on the team with me,” said Tiffany, who has run track since she was a freshman at Pioneer and made the switch from her first passion – soccer. “Kim has only been on the team for two years, this is her first state meet, and it’s really going to be great to go together.”

Kim feels much the same way about having her twin on the track.

“It’s awesome,” Kim says. “She pushes me to get better. I think Tiffany is the hardest working person on the team, and I see how hard she works and it just makes me want to work all that much harder.”

Tiffany has indeed put in tons of work in her four years running for Pioneer, and she has amped it up in her senior year. She picked up hurdling just this year, and is rated No. 4 in the state in the 300 hurdles. Her goal? To win it all.

“Yes, sir, I want to win,” she said. “There is only .1 or .2 seconds between No. 1 and No. 4, and I know I can run faster. If you ask me what my goal is, it’s to finish first in the state.”


Tiffany’s coach doesn’t doubt that it’s possible.

“Tiffany has trained very hard this year and has made great progress in the 300 hurdles,” said coach Nancy Shafer-Boudreau. I look for her to do well at the state meet.”

Tiffany Cernej-Garcia. Photo by Peter Draugalis

Since back when Pioneer squared off with Temperance Bedford on April 10, Tiffany has run the 300 hurdles 10 times and has finished first in seven of those races. She finished second twice and fourth once. She ran a personal-best 44.19 May 5 at the Golden Triangle Saturday Showcase.

Tiffany is concentrating solely on the 300 hurdles for the State Finals, but she was an extremely versatile performer during the season. She ran the 200 meters 10 times, never finishing lower than third and winning three times. She also had four firsts in the 100 and four more in the long jump.

“I’m so happy I decided to run track,” Tiffany says. “I really used to love soccer, but I think track teaches so many lessons that you can learn in life. There is so much sacrifice, so many things that you have to work through, both mentally and physically, to get better.

“It’s not easy to improve, you have to work at it, just like in life.”

Kim, in just her second year running track, takes satisfaction in the improvements she made in her times this year. And, she’s proud of the fact that her season will end at the State Finals.

“Tiffany has told me what it’s like, the atmosphere, but I guess I’ll just have to experience it for myself,” Kim said. “I’m not going to prepare any differently than I have all season. I’m just going to go there and do the best I can.”

Kim Cernej-Garcia. Photo by Terry Jacoby

Kim has run the 800 meters this season, and the occasional 400 meters, but she will concentrate on running a leg of the 4×400 and 4×800 at the State Finals. Her personal best in the 800 was 2:20 at the Larry Steeb Meet of Champions on May 29.

“I have a love-hate relationship with the 800,” she said. “I love getting better, improving my times, but I throw up after I run it, every time.”

And what are Kim’s goals at East Kentwood High, near Grand Rapids?

“I’d like to do a split below 60 in the 4×400,” she said. “I ran a 60 split at the Golden Triangle (Friday Festival on May 4), and I’d really like to get a low 59 or high 58. And, in the 4×800, I’d like to run a 2.19 split or faster.”

As the season concludes, the twins took a moment to reflect on their experiences on the track – both individually and together.

“I would tell anyone who wants to try track to run for yourself, not for anyone else, not for your teammates, or even for your coaches, do it for yourself,” said Kim. “And, don’t stress about it too much. Remember, it’s high school; have as much fun as you can. I think that’s where having Tiffany on the team with me has helped so much. She has made it so much more fun.”

Tiffany sums it up this way: “I’d say to stay positive every race, never give up, no matter what the situation. And, yes, to have fun. That’s very important, too.”