KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After years of work and six days a week at the gym, Kara Eaker is keeping calm and prepared headed into Olympic Trials in St. Louis.
“It’s just kind of like shocking kind of feeling, like it’s happening,” she said. “You have to just really think about just doing the gymnastics and not making a big deal about it's Olympic Trials.”
Eaker is one of 18 women who will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team and one of two from the Kansas City area. Both Eaker and Leanne Wong train at GAGE Center in Blue Springs.
For Eaker, the training to get to this point started more than a decade ago with a little girl who beamed every time she went to gymnastics class where the family lived in Warrensburg.
“Really rapidly her coach was like, ‘she needs to go somewhere where she’s gonna go further’,” said her mom, Katherine Eaker.
“It wasn’t like, ‘I don’t want to go to practice today.’ It was like, ‘It’s time for practice!’ you know? So we’re like, ‘OK, this isn’t going away,'” said her father, Mark Eaker.
From a young age, Kara Eaker "always wanted to be there early and get there early and then she’s always like the last one out the door, still.”
That driven focus may come with sacrifice and pressure, but for Eaker it also comes with balance.
Despite a demanding schedule, she makes time for hobbies like calligraphy.
You can see beautiful hand-written quotes all over her room. She went to prom and graduated from Grain Valley High School with a stellar GPA.
“4.57, graduated with advanced classes,” said her mother. “Yeah we’re proud of that,” her father agreed.
“We go to school from like 7 a.m. to noon and then we have to be in the gym by one o’clock and then we’re there until about 7 p.m.,” said Eaker, who said she doesn’t really talk about gymnastics at school.
She heads to college in the fall for gymnastics and to study engineering, another of her passions.
“The idea of getting to make something from scratch? I just like that idea,” she said.
Her mother, Katherine, said her daughter is shy and humble through her successes.
“She has exceeded anything that we ever expected her to, you know we’re so proud of her and not just gymnastics,” said Katherine. “She’s an amazing student, amazing person and those are the things that are most important to us.”
Eaker leans on her family, including her sister, Sara.
"She is my best friend. I don't know where I would be without her," Eaker said.
Mark Eaker says "she's just a regular girl" — a regular 18-year-old girl who was also a 2018 and 2019 World Team Champion in gymnastics among other accomplishments.
Eaker said her teammates, including Leanne Wong, are like extended family.
“I love training with Leanne. I mean like, just watching her push herself to be her best, it just inspires me to push myself to my best,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t have the best days and it’s just that bond that keeps us going and just telling each other that it’s like, 'It’s not over. It’s okay, we can do it.'“
Their bond reminds Eaker she's "not alone in this."
While she strives for perfection, she learns from mistakes, too.
“Forget that it happened but remember how to change it and how to fix it,” she said.
“You’ve just got to keep pushing and remembering why you’re doing this in the first place,” she said.
Why is she doing it in the first place? It’s simple: “Because I love it.”
U.S. Gymnastics Olympics Team Trials begin for women Friday night in St. Louis.
Eaker will be there, hoping to earn a spot on Team USA and go to Tokyo.