By Christy Sandmaier

All things being equal, Kara Eaker wants to make sure you know her as both an artist and an athlete. Her brilliance on the balance beam can be breathtaking, and the grace and beauty she displays on each event make her just a joy to watch in the sport. And if you happen to catch a glimpse of her smile, it’s one of the brightest out there! 

The veteran of two World Championships gold medal-winning teams for the USA – Doha in 2018 and Stuttgart in 2019 – who trains at GAGE under Al Fong and Armine Barutyan-Fong, is quietly working towards Tokyo with calm confidence and excitement. She calls being part of Team USA at Worlds, where she made beam finals both times, “an honor” and would love to be there with her teammates this summer as athletes around the world gather for the Olympic Games.

It’s well-known that making the U.S. women’s team is more difficult than competing in the Games themselves and one could see Eaker on the four person team or taking the specialist spot. But, just as she takes her routines one skill at a time, she is taking this summer’s marathon of competitions one meet, one opportunity at a time. And after that, it’s off to Utah to compete for the Red Rocks where she says she’s looking forward to “experiencing competing in a more team-centered environment, excitement, friendship, and school spirit!”

We chatted with Eaker in April, right before American Classic, where she opened up about the past year, what’s made her stronger, and the balance that’s become her trademark. Here’s a snapshot of the interview.

How do you feel you’ve grown as an athlete and as a person over the last year?

As an athlete, I feel I have matured in my ability to recognize my capabilities. I have always been a little shy and tend to hold back, but I am striving now not to be as introverted and to allow myself to get out of my comfort zone and be who I am.

I think a lot of us have had our perspectives changed by COVID and the racial tensions, and all of this challenges us in our ability to realize there is so much more than gymnastics to think about! 

What was it like finally returning to National Team camp after all this time?

Returning to camp was great! It gave us some sense of normalcy to see everyone. COVID testing isn’t fun, but now I’ve been vaccinated and it shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Are there any upgrades you plan on competing at Classics, Championships or Trials?

We are always striving to improve and add upgrades. We are always testing our limit, and new skills are my favorite to learn, but there is a balance that has to be maintained to not get injured because that is always the most important.

You show such beauty and grace as a performer. Do you have a dance background or is that something natural for you?

I don’t have a dance background, but dancing has always been somewhat natural for me. I have trained and practiced my dance and techniques with Armine and she has helped me perfect my dance skills.

What’s the best part about training with Al and Armine? And what is it like working with Tom as National Team Coordinator?

The balance between Al and Armine provide different but complementary viewpoints and both have high expectations that drive us to be our best. Their caring nature creates a home atmosphere and I feel confident that I can trust them in a parental way. Tom Forster has worked hard to make all the athletes feel valued, and his kind and calm nature gives us the encouragement and confidence that helps us feel like we can do anything!

You are often looked at more as an artistic athlete than a powerful athlete, but what would you like to be best known for?

I love being recognized for my grace and artistry, but don’t sell me short. I have plenty of power, too! I strive to be known as a good influence for the younger gymnasts and my fans out there.

See the complete interview with Kara in the May/June issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine!

Photo credits: Ricardo Bufolin and Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics

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