Life can be hectic for any household of six. Between school, parties, clubs and carpools, families often can feel like they meet themselves coming and going. But add a high-level athlete to the mix, and things really get interesting.

Just ask the Blair family of Lake Highlands: mom Kathy, dad Jimmy, and their four children, including 13-year-old Meghan, an international elite gymnast.

The Blairs started out much like any other family. But 10 years ago, Kathy Blair signed up then-3-year-old Meghan for a gymnastics class. Like many parents, she thought it’d be something fun for her daughter to do. She had no idea it would turn into a way of life.

Right away, Blair realized Meghan was different. She not only had an unusual aptitude for the sport, she also was remarkably driven to train and compete.

“She’s always been more goal-oriented than our other kids,” Blair says. “She’s always been very disciplined. And from the start, she loved it.”

Meghan continued to excel in gymnastics as a student at Merriman Park Elementary, so much so that the Blairs realized they should step up her training. When Meghan finished third grade, they removed her from public school and enrolled her at the Mesquite Institute of Gymnastics.

It was an awfully big move for a 9-year-old. Her new training schedule would mean 10-hour days, combining more than six hours of training with three to four hours of school every day. But for Meghan, it was no problem.

“We were worried about her leaving her school and her friends,” Blair says, “but she never looked back.”

Meghan did well in Mesquite , making new friends and continuing to add to her skills. Two years ago, Meghan’s continued success meant it was time for yet another move, and her parents enrolled her in WOGA, or World Olympic Gymnastics Academy. Located in Plano , it’s one of the top three gymnastics academies in the world.

“Moving to WOGA was very traumatic for her, a huge deal,” Blair says. “Emotionally it took her a while to adjust. But we knew it’s where she needed to be, to go to the next step.”

At WOGA, Meghan trains in the mornings and evenings every Monday through Thursday, plus another morning session on Fridays. Her gymnastics schedule adds up to roughly 30 hours per week.

It’s a tough timetable, but WOGA owner and head coach Evgeny Marchenko says it has paid off for Meghan.

“She’s come a long way since she’s been here,” he says. “We’re very impressed with her performance.”

She has advanced so much, in fact, that last year she earned the title of international elite gymnast, the sport’s highest competitive category.

And last December, Meghan traveled overseas for the first time to compete in an international competition in Moscow.

“It was a very long trip,” Marchenko says, “and she traveled with just two other girls and our assistant coach. But she performed well, under very difficult circumstances. She just got out there and did what she was supposed to do.”

In Moscow, she placed first on vault, fourth on floor, and sixth all around. Though glad she did well, Meghan was ready to return home. The trip made her appreciate, as she says, “everything” about life in the States.

“They have a very different lifestyle there,” she says.

But the experience of competing internationally was valuable, she says, because her goal is to compete at the Olympics one day.

Too young to qualify for the 2004 Olympic games, she has set her sights on 2008.

“Until then,” she says, “I’ll just keep training hard, stay focused and try to stay injury free.”

Meghan’s mother says this all just comes naturally for her.

“You can’t make kids do this,” she says. “She craves the athleticism. So all the hours of training aren’t hard for her. We just drive the cars and write the checks. She does everything else.”

But with all that preparation, Meghan has to find time for an education. So she’s home schooled between training sessions, meaning mom and daughter make round trips from Lake Highlands to Plano nine times a week.

Has the family ever considered moving north to reduce the trips? “We’ve thought about it,” Blair says. “But this is home. Our oldest daughter is at Texas Tech, but our other children are in Lake Highlands schools. There are many nice things about Plano, but out there it’s just house after house, the same thing. You can’t recreate this.”

Besides, Blair says, “it’s become a way of life for us. I’m enjoying it now. I’m more used to the pace, more relaxed about it. And all the moms at the gym have become great friends. It’s a sorority, for sure.”
 
Meghan also has made friends at WOGA, and she says she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on any fun with this kind of life.

“I get as much social life and fun as anyone else,” she says.

Blair agrees. “Basically, gymnastics is her life. But she still goes to the mall, to movies, birthday parties and all that. We try to make her adolescence as normal as possible.”

And that, Blair says, carries over to their home life. Although Meghan’s training and competition schedule keeps her parents running, Blair says there has never been any sibling rivalry between Meghan and her brother and sisters.

“We’re all very proud of her,” she says. “She lives a different life during the day, but when she comes home, she’s just one of four kids, another member of the family.”