The Hearn family of Garrett Park has two refrigerators, a kayak in the dining room and overnight guests nearly every night.

Mary Alice Hearn, mother of world-class paddlers Cathy, 23, and David, 22, has been engulfed in the world of whitewater racing so long she cannot remember whether this is a normal way to live.

"A lot of people have two refrigerators," she said uncertainly last week as her children and their friends were packing for the world championship races in Bala, Wales, starting Thursday -- and eating all the while.

"And having friends overnight is normal," she added quickly.

"Sure, Mom, can my friends sleep over a couple of months?" asked Bill, her 15-year-old son, who also is a promising paddler.

But Mary Alice Hearn could not pretend that kayaks are routinely found in dining rooms across Middle America. "Well, this is not the way I envisioned spending my life," she finally admitted with an exasperated grin. "I always thought I'd have a living room that was neat."

But being a paddling family, the Hearns have adapted to whitewater madness better than most.

The current family superstars are Cathy and David. But five years ago, their father, Carter Hearn, a geologist, was the C-1 Master's national champion. In another five years, Bill may be a world-class paddler -- he's already amassed a more impressive record than either of his elder siblings at the same age.

Even Mary Alice used to paddle, but recently gave it up to pursue her interest in weaving.

Both of the Hearn champions have been whitewater racers since they were in their midteens. Cathy is an exercise physiology major at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and a powerful figure in women's kayaking, where she reigns as world champion.

David is a geology and exercise physiology major at the University of Massachusetts and one of the strongest contenders for the world title in men's slalom canoe racing.

Both insist they were not pushed into the sport by overeager parents. They say the inspiration for competitive paddling struck them in 1972 on a lonely road in Montana.

"We were driving along, listening to the radio when they announced that Jamie McEwan (a Washington native and a family friend) had won a bronze medal for whitewater paddling in the Olympics," recalled Cathy. "When we got back I really got interested in racing."

During the ensuing nine years, Cathy has trained relentlessly, won countless races -- including the 1979 world championships -- shot unexplored Mexican rapids for television's "American Sportsman" and been interviewed by every leading woman's magazine in the country.

David followed his sister's example and quickly became one of the leading world figures in solo canoe racing, but the title of world champion has remained elusive to him.

"I really want to win it this time," said David, devouring a cheese sandwich after an especially hard training session last week. "I'd have to say I was disappointed with second place two years ago."

Grueling workouts, sore muscles and voracious appetites are a way of life for world-class paddlers. During the intensive training that precedes a major race, they spend three to four hours a day on the river. There, the racers paddle furiously -- working on endurance and skill as they negotiate gates. Back at home, the Hearns lift weights and jog. And sleep -- 10 hours or more a night.

"A couple eight-hour nights and I'm dead," Cathy said.

The 1981 world championships are not the end of it, either. Both Cathy and David are adamant that they will continue intensive training for the 1983 world championships in Italy.

The only thing that could stop them is money.

Beneath the good-natured bantering and obvious love of paddling that the younger Hearns share is a mild bitterness that there is no public money available to fund the U.S. whitewater team members. Every other national whitewater team is government-subsidized.

The Hearns estimate they spend nearly $10,000 a year to keep Cathy and David in the sport, with some of the money trickling in from the racers' numerous part-time jobs. Jobs, that is, that don't interfere with their training.

During the last year, David, an expert fiberglass craftsman, has built and sold 10 boats and has a contract with the Smithsonian to construct a squid tank. Cathy has waitressed, taught paddling classes and promoted a whitewater ride for a New Jersey amusement park.

"I wound up selling my boat last fall to stay in school. It's just absurb, the world champion slalom kayaker with no boat," said Cathy with a wry grin. She also says she and David have talked seriously with coaches from Australia and West Germany about competing for those countries in order to take advantage of the subsidies.

But the Hearns admit that the lack of funds has given the American paddlers a pioneer spirit and sense of camaraderie -- and the reluctant respect of the international racing set.

"The Europeans were really laughing at us last summer when we traveled all over Europe to compete," Cathy said with a giggle. "They were staying in hotels and had lots of spending money -- and there we were, camping and begging rides."

"That's what a democracy means," said Mary Alice. "Being poor."