Best friends, twins, rivals: Cross country runners Isabel, Monica Hebner take long way around to Texas

Emily Schumacher, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 19 flipbook. 

For as long as they can remember, twins Monica and Isabel Hebner have shared everything: the same childhood bedroom, the same friends, the same food, and the same passion for Texas cross country.

Though the sisters describe having a twin as having a built-in best friend, they still remain highly competitive with each other. While dealing with injuries these past few months, the twins commonly ran side by side, clocking in with season bests of  21:12.7 for Isabel and 21:32.4 for Monica in the FSU Invitational 6k. 

Isabel and Monica are each other’s biggest competitors and greatest supporters. They’re also inseparable in races: searching for each other’s ponytails to see who gained a better start, stepping on each other’s heels when they run extremely close and often talking on the course as they warn each other about wind up ahead or placement in the race.

“If Monica can do it, I know I can do it, because I work out with her every single day,” Isabel said. “We want the best for each other, and if she’s going to beat me in a race, she’s going to beat me in a race. The drive (for success) is internal but it’s also because you have somebody who’s just as good as you with you all the time.”

Burnt orange ties run deep within the Hebner family — their grandfather, Robert, is a research professor and director of the Center for Electromechanics at the University, and their older brother, Thomas, graduated from the Forty Acres in 2020.

But the Hebner twins took their own circuitous route to get to Texas.

After their high school graduation, the sisters went their separate ways for the first time as Monica ran at Duke University and Isabel started at Penn.  

“It was kind of weird truthfully because growing up there was no Monica and no Isabel, it was just the Hebner twins … because we did everything together,” Monica said. “Being able to navigate the world in our own way was definitely necessary in our relationship with each other and for our future because we were able to identify ourselves finally.”

Transferring to Texas wasn’t anything more than an afterthought until Robert attended the 2019 NCAA finals in Austin to watch Monica compete in the 10,000-meter race. 

When he thanked Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte for putting on the event, Del Conte asked if his granddaughters ran as Longhorns.

Robert said the girls hadn’t been recruited. But from that moment on, Del Conte made sure they were, putting the Hebner twins in immediate contact with head coach PattiSue Plumer, who pursued the girls for her team.

Once summer came around, Isabel made the move to Texas while Monica transferred to UCLA. It wasn’t until Monica saw how well Isabel was doing in Austin that she also decided to transfer again to run alongside her sister as a Longhorn.

“Texas is a great place to grow, and you can see a difference after just one year,” the twins’ dad Tom Hebner said. “We all saw it (with Isabel), and Monica wanted it too. The draw was very strong: Monica said, ‘I don’t know if it’s the magic of Austin or what, but I’m going there, too.’”

The girls have truly found their stride within the women’s team, as they have figured out the dynamics of each team member, who pushes who competitively and how each athlete runs their individual race for the overall success of the team. Isabel and Monica have formed a tight-knit group with freshman Eva Jess and senior Beth Ramos that keeps everyone’s paces competitive.

“Full circle” is the main phrase used by the twins when describing how it feels to finish their collegiate careers side by side at the same university. Many years after they first started running competitively, Monica and Isabel are still watching for each other’s red hair during races. 

“We grew up together, we started the sport together, then we were able to go our separate ways but to come back and finish together,” Isabel said. “It’s hard to put into words how meaningful that is to the both of us. Knowing that every day I get to run and (represent) Texas on my chest with my best friend next to me is one of the most special feelings ever.”