Sisters put history lesson ahead of goals on the track - San Jose Mercury News

Track stars Nicole and Rachel Sabes of Saratoga High know about sacrifice.

The senior identical twins might have given up their final chance to compete at the Central Coast Section championships to be part of a greater cause.

The sisters left Monday for Poland on a two-week trip to attend the March of the Living, an event that brings together Jewish teenagers from around the world to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, a concentration camp built during World War II, on Holocaust Memorial Day.

From there they will travel to Israel to observe Israel's Memorial and Independence days.

"We decided at the beginning of the school year to take the trip, because we heard it was an emotional, once-in-a-lifetime type of experience," said Nicole Sabes, who will run at UC-Santa Barbara next season. "We didn't know until just before track season that it might ruin our chances to run at CCS. But I believe our decision will be worth it."

The trip coincides with the El Camino Division and Santa Clara Valley Athletic League finals, which serve as qualifiers for the CCS meet.

Saratoga Coach Peter Jordan applied for a hardship appeal for religious reasons, but his request was denied by league officials.

"It's a CIF rule and our bylaws mirror those rules," said Tony Nunes, commissioner of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League. "As much as we feel for them in this situation, we must follow the rules."

The Sabes' maternal great-grandparents moved to the United States from Poland in the 1920s, but other members of their family were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, said Robin Sabes, the girls' mother. The sisters will travel with Holocaust survivor Isaac Goldstein, 82.

"It's going to be worth it to share this experience with a survivor," said Rachel Sabes, who will attend UC-Davis next year. "To learn first-hand from him will be special."

Nicole Sabes has run the fourth-best 800 meters in the Central Coast Section this year with a time of 2 minutes, 16.48 seconds.

Nicole and Rachel make up half of the Falcons' 1,600-meter relay team, teaming with fellow identical twins Katie and Claire Marsh. The team's time of 4:02.80 is fifth in the CCS this year.

The top three in each event at the CCS meet qualify for state. The girls could still race at CCS in the relay, if alternate runners combine with the Marsh twins to post a qualifying time.

On Thursday the Sabes helped lead the Falcons to their second consecutive undefeated season in the El Camino Division with a victory over Lynbrook. Rachel won the 200 and 400, and Nicole took the 800 and ran the second-best time in school history in the 100, winning in 12.58 seconds.

"It's real hard making this trip, because we don't want to let our teammates on the relay team down," Rachel Sabes said. "It's a bummer we had to do it, but maybe the alternates can get us to CCS."

"It's going to be nerve-racking without them for the league finals; they are real fast," said Katie Marsh, a junior. "It's just bad timing. But I would have gone on the trip, too."

Jordan also supports the decision.

"Their convictions are so strong they are willing to sacrifice the experience of running at CCS," Jordan said. "It was a choice they made and they knew the consequences. I certainly would not want to talk them out of it."

Robin Sabes also will make the trip to Poland and Israel with an adult group. She said Nicole and Rachel are looking forward to meeting teenagers from other countries and learning from a Holocaust survivor.

"It's killing Nicole right now, she loves track so much," Robin Sabes said. "But the way we look at it is 20 years from now, what is going to be more important to remember? Running in a track meet or participating in this march?"