Bill Althaus: Olympic, GAGE gymnasts Kara Eaker, Leanne Wong face the biggest disappointment of their lives

By Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Kara Eaker of Grain Valley competes in the floor exercise during the women's U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in St. Louis in June. Eaker, an alternate on the United States women's gymnastics team, has tested positive for COVID-19 in an Olympic training camp in Japan. Al Fong, the coach for both Eaker and fellow Olympic alternate Leanne Wong at GAGE in Blue Springs, confirmed the positive test in an email to The Associated Press on Monday.

Think for a moment. 

What is the most disappointing moment of your life? 

A missed opportunity when it comes to the job of your dreams, coming up an inch short of the goal line in the championship game or asking the girl of your dreams for her hand in marriage and getting rejected? 

I’ve had many blessings in my life and many disappointments, but I can’t imagine what Grain Valley High School graduate Kara Eaker is going through in Japan. 

She is an alternate on the United States women’s gymnastics Olympic team, and we learned on Monday that she has tested positive for COVID-19. 

I have known Kara for five years, and was amazed at her grace away from the beam, uneven bars or the vault. When she was a young teenager, she had the grace and composure of an adult, and she recently graduated No. 3 in her class at Grain Valley High school and I was honored to be invited to her national letter of intent signing ceremony in which she committed to the University of Utah. 

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Now, I can only imagine what she must be going through, mentally and physically. 

This is a recent statement through Twitter from her mother, Katherine Eaker: 

"Yes, sadly despite all attempts to follow all safety procedures and many, many prior negative tests – and being fully vaccinated Kara did test positive in Japan. She will have to be isolated, but is not currently having any symptoms. She is incredibly strong and brave." 

She has to be to see the possibility of an Olympic dream shattered by a disease that has changed the way we live on a worldwide basis. 

Eaker trains with Al Fong and Armine Barutyan at the Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Springs and GAGE issued the following statement Monday afternoon: 

“After following all of the strict required safety protocols along with Covid tests prior to leaving, upon landing and daily covid tests since then, Kara has tested positive for Covid. She is now required to quarantine. 

Leanne Wong competes in the floor exercise during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas in June. Wong, an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team who trains at GAGE in Blue Springs, is being forced to quarantine in Japan along with GAGE teammate Kara Eaker because of COVID-19 protocols despite both being fully vaccinated.

“Leanne (Wong, her GAGE teammate and also an alternate for the U.S. team) has tested negative however is also required to quarantine due to close contact.   

“Kara was fully vaccinated and she is doing very well with no symptoms. GAGE is very proud of these girls!   

“They are both strong and they are very brave. Although this is a very disappointing outcome for them, please know they are handling it very well!” 

While we found it impossible to talk by phone, Fong sent me this text Monday night: 

“Kara tested positive but has no symptoms. She feels fine and is holding up very strong mentally. Leanne is also quarantined due to close proximity. They are very disappointed but are handling this situation bravely.” 

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Two teenagers had the rug pulled out from them while they were anticipating the possibility of representing the United States on the biggest gymnastics stage in the world. 

The training they have received, the support of a loving family and coaches who care will help them get through this unthinkable situation, and I hope and pray that they get another opportunity to represent GAGE, Eastern Jackson County and the United States in 2024. 

Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at bill.althaus@examiner.net or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC 

Bill Althaus