By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
EVERETT — Six years ago, Diana and Richard Ohashi of Newcastle faced a big family dilemma.
One that required a big family decision.
Their daughter, 9-year-old Katelyn, was a very promising gymnast. She was developing nicely at her Seattle-area club, but to become an elite international gymnast she needed to train with some of the nation’s most knowledgeable and experienced coaches.
It meant moving out of state. And not just Katelyn, but others in the Ohashi family as well.
“It was,” Diana Ohashi said, “a very tough call.”
After much discussion, Diana Ohashi moved in 2006 with Katelyn and the youngest of her three sons, Kalen, to the Kansas City, Mo., area, where Katelyn worked with gymnastics coach Al Fong, himself a Seattle native. Three years later they moved again, this time to train with premier coach Valeri Liukin — a former Olympic gold medalist from the Soviet Union and the father of 2008 American Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin — at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, Texas.
Remaining at their Eastside home was Richard Ohashi, and the couple’s middle son, who was entering his senior year of high school in 2006. The oldest son was already out of the house.
Diana Ohashi and her two kids live today in a Plano apartment. Katelyn, now a 14-year-old ninth-grader, studies at the Spring Creek Academy in Plano, a special school for students who need flexible academic schedules. She also practices gymnastics six days a week for up to seven hours a day.
The divided family reunites when it can, and they all keep in touch with frequent phone calls and Skype Internet conversations.
“It was definitely hard at first because my dad and two brothers were still here,” said Katelyn Ohashi, who will be competing in the junior division at this weekend’s Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships at Comcast Arena. “But it’s better now. They come and visit sometimes.”
Yet even now “it’s hard at times,” she said. “But I think it’s worth it. And I’m hoping it’ll pay off.”
Gymnastically speaking, it’s already paying off. In a sport where the world’s top gymnasts are typically in their late teens or early 20s, Ohashi is one of America’s most exceptional young gymnasts. At the 2011 national championships, Ohashi placed first in all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise in the junior division. Her only non-winning performance was a fourth place in vault.
Afterward, Valeri Liukin told International Gymnast Magazine, “For Katelyn, the sky’s the limit. Nothing less. I’m not exaggerating one single bit. Under very careful coaching, there is nothing impossible for that kid.”
Katelyn Ohashi is a 4-foot-9, 80-pound pixie of a girl, but she is a dynamo on the gymnastics floor. She might already be good enough to make the five-woman United States team for this summer’s Olympic Games in London, but cannot because of a rule that requires Olympic gymnasts to be 16 in the year of the Games.
Ohashi will turn 16 in April 2013, meaning she missed the cut-off by a little over four months.
So she will continue to train with the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro as her Olympic goal, and her family will continue their sacrifices on her behalf.
“Some people might think this is really odd, but you’d be surprised,” said Diana Ohashi, a former high school gymnast who grew up in Issaquah. “I know of several parents who’ve done this same thing.”
There are days, she admitted, when she wonders if the current cost is worth the potential reward.
“But I really like Texas,” she said. “I like the weather and I like the people, so that helps. … It’s harder for a kid, but I think (Katelyn) is happy and (Kalen) likes it, too.”
Her daughter has already traveled worldwide, “and we’re lucky that she gets to do stuff like that,” added Diana Ohashi, who attends cosmetology school in Plano. “It’s like I tell her, some people never figure out what they’re good at. But she really is talented. And if I didn’t believe this was (the right thing) for her, I never would’ve done it.
“It’s a hard road,” she said, “but it’s been an amazing journey.”