The Scary, Surprising Truth About Raising an Olympian
"People don't realize that stars and planets, everything, has to line up perfectly for you even to have the opportunity to get your number called."
RJ King and his wife are the parents of an unusually talented 10-year-old girl. Chandler King, Instagram star and Olympic hopeful, trains at The World Champion Center — the gym where Simone Biles became Simone Biles — near Houston. Despite the fact that the entire family relocated from Michigan to Texas in pursuit of Chandler’s passion, RJ is remarkably grounded and remarkably supportive of his daughter’s dreams. It could be because he was once an athlete himself, and he knows the amount of time you have to put into any sport, and what that effort will provide a person as they move away from sports and into their adult lives. But it could also be that he knows his daughter is talented. In support of Chandler, RJ relocated his family from Michigan to Texas about a year ago to give her access to the Olympic-feeder gym. Fatherly caught up with him to interview him about his fears and hopes in the face of a nearly impossible pursuit.
Do you have Olympic hopes?
That’s like throwing a needle in a haystack and trying to find it. Yeah, she’s talented, and she’s tough, and she’s a great gymnast, but people don’t realize that stars and planets, everything, has to line up perfectly for you even to have the opportunity to get your number called. We’re not stuck in the Olympic dream even though it would be nice for her to represent the USA. We’re just happy that she’s able to find something and be able to be passionate and work hard towards a goal.
That said, Nastia Liukin’s dad. who is the head of women’s gymnastics loves her, and says that they have big plans for her. So anything is possible if she works hard and she stays passionate about it. That’s how that works.
The funny thing is that she’s a kid so, realistically, she might lose the passion. That is what happens sometimes even with absolutely remarkable children.
With children, things can change at the drop of a dime. But even when what she’s doing now, the hours she’s training, the focus, her dedication, it’s all building a winning attitude. Whatever direction she decides to go to, it’s going to help her out. It’s really not anything to be nervous about. We’re happy she’s found something that she’s learned how to dedicate and work hard toward. She’ll be positioned perfectly to be a productive citizen in whatever direction she takes in her life. Nothing about it worries us.
Still, we’re super geeked up about what she’s taking on right now.
When did Chandler become interested in gymnastics?
Probably around 3 or 4. She was always doing cartwheels around the house. But she really turned it on when she was probably about 6. She saw the Gabby Douglas Story. When that movie came out, that’s when we saw the change in her attitude and her concentration with going to gymnastics and focusing and concentrating on it. That story really inspired her.
I remember her saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, I want to go to the Olympics.’
Did you think she was being a 6-year old, or did you think she was being serious?
I would never not take a kid seriously, especially if I see that they have a talent. My first instinct was to feed her ambition by taking her to the local gym then taking her to the most popular gym with other gymnasts her age. When we did, it was confirmed that she was on a higher level. Her testing and her results were on a higher level.
Her mind, her ability to focus, and her work ethic set her apart from kids. So, if she’s going to be serious and passionate, so are we. We are going to provide her with the best training and the best resources and the best facilities possible.
Did you ever have to have a conversation with her where you said, “We’re putting a lot of our time into this, so we need a certain amount of commitment from you?”
We really haven’t had to have that conversation because she’s given as much effort as she possibly could. It’s not like she’s been slacking. We check in with her all the time and ask her, ‘Hey, look, is everything ok? How are you feeling? Are you still having fun?’ We have to do those check-ins because she’s still in our care and it’s a very demanding sport. Sometimes we just make sure that this is what she wants and she’s having fun. But she wouldn’t rather do anything else. We can tell that she’s more happy than she’s ever been. We actually just moved to Texas from Michigan about a year ago, because of her gymnastics.
What kind of a commitment is practice?
Between five and six hours a day. They have a special homeschool program at the gym. She goes to the gym in the morning from about 8 to 11 or 11:30, and then she goes to school from 12 to 3 then she goes back to the gym from 3:30 to 6:30 or 7.
I know it seems like a lot we’re putting into it and it is a lot we’re putting into it. She’s a little bit different than the average kid her age. She has an ability to focus really well and be very responsible. She wakes herself up in the morning. She really manages her time and effort.
Are you nervous about her so seriously pursuing a sport and a big dream?
I wouldn’t call it nervous. We were proud that she found something that she really loves to do and makes her happy. I think every sport presents a certain a chance of injury. [But] you can jump off of a curb and sprain your ankle or break a leg.
I’ve played many years of sports, and there’s no reason to worry about injuring yourself when things, freak accidents can happen at any time of day.
What’s competition day like? Does Chandler like it?
She loves for people to watch her do what she does. The competition aspect of it — I think she opens up and really comes to when people are watching, and the lights are on, and the excitement is there. She really comes into her own. Those diva moments occur in competition.
Still, that has to be tough for you.
For us, it’s a very nerve-wracking thing. There’s slipping and twisting and turning on a four-inch beam. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport! It’s a stressful situation, especially when you’re not personally taking part in it or trying to execute anything. Everything is really on them. If you look at some of the highlights from the Olympians that are performing, and they video some of their parents that are in the stand, they move around and squirm around in the seat and they have these crazy looks on their faces. We can relate. We can relate to those feelings and those faces that they make.