Chandler Gozashti, 13, never set out to be a national-caliber gymnast. His sister, Blake, 9, did, mostly because she wanted to do whatever her big brother was doing.
"I kept climbing on everything," Chandler says of his athletic beginnings.
"He was fearless. We wanted to find something that was safe for him to do," explains his mother, Sallie Gozashti.
That was a six years ago. Next week, Chandler will compete in the Junior Olympic National championships in Portland. Meanwhile, Blake will compete this weekend in the regional championships in Las Vegas. Chandler is already a Level 9 gymnast, just one below the highest level, while Blake has already attained Level 7. Chandler earned his trip to the Nationals by placing among the top 12 in the Regional Championships in Nevada. Blake won the state championship at her level to earn her place in the regional competition.
Once he tried gymnastics, Chandler found his unique combination of strength and flexibility made the sport exciting. He also discovered something else. "I like competing a lot," he says.
The brother and sister both started at Redwood Gymnastic Academy, but when their coaches left, so did the young athletes, Chandler to train with Dimitri Aleksandrov in Novato, and Blake to continue working with Bogi Michovsky in Napa.
Although both are gifted athletically, they haven't reached the upper echelons of their sport by natural ability alone. They work at their sport and they work hard, training four hours a day, as often as six days a week.
Both Chandler and Balker are straight A students and on the Principal's List at Harvest Christian School. Chandler acknowledges his schedule gets a little hectic at times. "Sometimes it is hard to find time to do my homework," he says. He makes time by sometimes getting up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning to do his homework and by using study time at school to keep caught up.
When he has the time, Chandler enjoys the trampoline and playing games with his friends. Blake likes to garden and also enjoys dance.
It all adds up to a busy schedule for not only the gymnasts, but also for their parents, Sallie and Farzad, who not only have to make sure Blake and Chandler get to practices and competition, but that their 16-year-old brother, Landon, gets to his soccer practices and games.
Even before they have reached high school age, both Chandler and Blake have been in some intense competitions, including state and regional championship meets.
Chandler acknowledges that sometimes he feels the pressure, although his mother says it never shows in his outward appearance. "There is no real way out of it," he says. "I just tell myself, 'Whatever happens, happens.'"
Blake handles the pressure a bit differently. "I just pretend like I'm in my regular gym," she says.
The young gymnasts have similar goals. "I would like to go to the world championships and the Olympics," Chandler says, a direct statement quickly echoed by his sister.
It is left to Blake to summarize the attraction of gymnastics. "I get to do things other people can't do," she says simply.