At the age of 4, Sabina Foisor was in France, competing in her first chess tournament. By the age of 15, she was a Romanian and European junior champion, and three years later, in 2007, she finished in the top 20 in the European Chess Championship.
Such was childhood for the daughter of professional chess players Ovidiu and Cristina Foisor.
"They decided it would be a good idea to teach me how to play chess. … It's a nice way to be together," said Foisor, 22, now a senior at UMBC. "When I was a kid, I used to work with my parents about five to seven hours a day. I had to give up hanging out with my friends. I didn't do those things very often."
Foisor is living far from her parents these days, having moved to Baltimore in 2008 to begin her college career at UMBC. The next year, she helped the university's chess team win the U.S. national college title.
And on May 8, the UMBC senior will be in St. Louis attending her fourth U.S. Women's Championship.
The U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women's Championship will be hosted by The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The tournaments will last for two weeks, and Foisor will be competing against nine of the best female chess players in the United States.
Perhaps her biggest challenge will come from defending champion Anna Zatonskih. Foisor, who came in fifth last year, has never been able to beat Zatonskih.
"I'm hoping this year will be good because I'm hoping to be a part of the U.S. Olympic team," said Foisor, whose ranking would benefit from a top finish in St. Louis. "If I play well, I think I will be on the team once again. I'm happy to represent the United States."
That's a big reason she transferred from the Romanian Chess Federation to the U.S. Chess Federation after moving to Baltimore.
Her mother has mixed feelings about the transfer.
"[It was a] big decision she took to play for U.S.; I must admit [the move] has good things on one hand, but for me as a Romanian, [it] sometimes gives me sad feelings," Cristina Foisor. "She represented [the] U.S. in the last Chess Olympiad where the American women's team finished in fifth place and the Romanian team 13th."
One of Sabina's biggest challenges is being away from her family. Her parents and younger sister, Veronica, now 18, stayed in Romania when she left for college.
"It was not easy for her or for us to go on this way … but hopefully in [the 21st] century we can communicate well on [the] Internet and see each other as well," Cristina Foisor said.
Sabina says she still considers her parents her mentors.
"I talk to them," she said. "[Their advice] is what I need to improve."
Meanwhile, the chess team has become a sort of surrogate family for Sabina. She and Giorgi Margvelashvili, Sasha Kaplan and Adithya Balasubramanian are close despite the fact that Foisor is the only woman on the team. In their free time, they attend club practices to help the inexperienced players learn techniques and practice playing. Last year, the team shared an apartment.
As soon as Sabina returns from the championship, she will be walking at her graduation. She is earning a degree in French with minors in psychology and Russian.
Next year, she is planning to begin her master's program in intercultural communication at UMBC. Foisor isn't sure what exactly she would like to do with her degree, but she knows she will keep playing chess.
"I know if there is some way I can promote chess in the U.S., I would like to do so because I really think it helps kids focus more, to become disciplined," she said. "It's really something that I feel is positive."
Foisor likes the challenge of chess and the way it makes her disciplined.
"It's a good way of making a living," she says.
And, she adds, "I like the traveling."
She's done plenty of that already.