The students in Christine Ruck’s third grade class at Belleview Elementary didn’t let a television crew distract them from their language arts lesson on grammar and punctuation. They stayed focused on contractions and quotation marks, even as the camera crew got close-ups of one of their classmates.
9-year-old Merilyn Otgonbayar seems like a typical third-grader, concentrating on her schoolwork, then smiling and laughing with friends. But she is also an up-and-coming champion in figure skating, a sport she started when she was four years old, after watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics on television.
"She saw the skaters and then asked me if she could do that, so we got her signed up for a class," said Tuya Otgonbayar, Merilyn’s mother. “I don't know why she picked up skating so quickly, but I think it had to do with her enthusiasm. We never really pushed her to skate - she wanted to do it all on her own."
Merilyn has already earned eight gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze medals in skating competitions including the Broadmoor Open, Denver Invitational and Southwest Regional Championships.
In 2017, Merilyn will compete in the Asian Junior Championships because she is a citizen of both the United States and Mongolia, her parents’ native country. It’s located in east-central Asia between Russia and China. Merilyn is the first Mongolian skater to reach such a high level in the sport, which is why a television crew travelled more than 6,000 miles to do a story about her.
Merilyn’s parents came to the U.S. before she was born, seeking the best education possible for their child. They found it in the Cherry Creek School District. And while skating is a big part of Merilyn’s life (she trains five days a week and also takes ballet and gymnastics), school is always her first priority.
“She gets excited to do her schoolwork,” Tuya Otgonbayar said. “She loves all subjects, but she really loves to write and read.”