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Sisters: Triathlete Sarah True and best-selling author Lauren Groff

Sisters: Triathlete Sarah True and best-selling author Lauren Groff

Growing up, Lauren Groff was Sarah True's biggest competitor. Now they are each other's biggest supporter.

Sarah True is an Olympic triathlete who finished fourth at the 2012 London Games, but she says her older sister, Lauren Groff, is more famous. 

Groff is the author of "Fates and Furies," a New York Times best-seller. President Barack Obama picked the novel as his favorite book of 2015 in an interview with People Magazine. The New York Times Book Review praised Groff as "a writer of rare gifts."

"She's kind of a literary superstar," said True, who is married to U.S. distance runner Ben True. 

True, 34, began looking up to Groff, 37, long before the rapturous literary reviews. 

True remembers not having an interest in swimming before Groff joined the local swim team at the age of 7. But as soon as Groff started to swim competitively, True suddenly developed an overwhelming desire to join her sister in the pool.

"She was my role model," True said. "I wanted to be just like her."

In their first season together as swim club teammates, Groff earned several trophies. True, who did not receive any, wept on the ride back from the team banquet. When they arrived at home, Groff pulled her father aside and asked if she could use her allowance money to buy her younger sister a trophy. He said no without hesitation.

"My parents let Sarah be disappointed because it gave her the fuel to get all of the trophies the next year," Groff said. "I wanted to make her feel better in the moment. But the moment was transient, and the lesson was long term."

True strived for years to defeat her older sister, but Groff, taller and a better natural athlete, always touched the wall first. 

True knew that if she wanted the result to change, she needed to work harder than her sister. Groff encouraged that mentality, teaching her younger sister the lyrics to the song "You Can Get It If You Really Want It" by Jimmy Cliff during a family vacation. When Groff finished practicing, she would wait patiently on the pool deck, with her nose in a book, as True continued to swim extra laps.

"I realized pretty early on that I could be better at something," True said. "It just takes a lot of work. Talent is almost irrelevant."

There was never a shortage of hard work in the Groff family. 

Gerald, a rheumatologist who is now the Chief Medical Insurance and Innovation Officer of Bassett Healthcare Network, and his wife, Jeannine, a retired biology teacher who went back to school at age 53 to become a physician assistant, set high expectations for their three children. Even after True finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics, and after Groff's "Fates and Furies" was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award, Gerald and Jeannine asked their favorite question: "What's next?"

"There was always a feeling that whatever we did was not quite good enough," Groff said. "We always had the potential to do better."

Adam, the oldest sibling by two years, is a graduate of the MD/MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is now an entrepreneur and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine. 

Groff, a full-time author, spends countless hours locked in a converted bedroom in her Gainesville, Fla. home, writing like "a mad scientist," True said. Groff's writing process involves handwriting an entire draft, throwing it away and then starting over. She estimates that she handwrote 13 drafts of "Fates and Furies" before typing subsequent drafts. 

True, who trains up to 25 hours per week, goes into an "athletic bubble" during the triathlon season, focusing on nothing besides becoming a faster cyclist, runner and swimmer. After qualifying for the 2016 Olympics by finishing fourth at the ITU World Olympic Qualification Event in Aug. 2015, she is a contender to bring home a medal in Rio. 

"There's a lot more in common in what we are all doing than you would think," True said. "We are all pretty competitive and driven people."

True credits unconditional support from her parents as the reason that she and her two siblings have been so successful as professionals. True's parents drove her to rehearsals of the musical "Gypsy" when she chased a fleeting dream of becoming a stage actress. After she expressed an interest in birds and becoming the "Jane Goodall of parrots," her parents taught her about ornithology. 

"My parents would have been just as happy if none of us were super ambitious," True said, "as long as we were happy in life."

Gerald and Jeannine can now watch their daughters smile on network television. In October, Groff exchanged laughs with host Seth Meyers during an appearance on NBC's "Late Night." This summer, True will receive plenty of air time of her own on NBC during the Olympics. 

Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff with Seth Meyers Credit: NBC

Neither Groff nor True imagined that they would achieve such a high profile coming from Cooperstown, N.Y., a small town of less than 2,000 residents that is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

They are now each other's biggest supporter. True noticed Groff jumping up and down, clutching an ill son in each arm, during the final kilometer of the 2012 Olympics; Groff burst into tears when True surprised her by attending a reading of "Fates and Furies" at the Harvard Book Store. 

"I can't believe I'm related to her," True said. "I know she turns around and says, wait a second, you're an Olympic athlete, I can't believe you're related to me."  

True was asked how Groff, if she deviates from fiction writing, would title a biography on her younger sister. 

"She sees me in a more flattering light than I've ever seen myself," True said, "so it would be something really sweet I'm sure."

Groff was approached with the same question.

"I probably won't write it," Groff said, "but it would be the most sentimental, tear-jerking book of all time."

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