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Trampoline – not for the faint of heart (or body)

Jocelyne Finnigan flies through the air as she trains on a trampoline under the supervision of coach Bryson Kerrigan at Airborne Trampoline in Mississauga on July 27, 2012.

Michelle Siu/michelle siu The Globe and Mail

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When I was about 6 years old, my parents enrolled me in gymnastics. I didn't manage much more than a somersault before I decided the sport was not for me. Even then I was acutely aware that I was accident-prone, not to mention lacking in co-ordination and flexibility. So what was I thinking when I decided to try out the Olympic sport of trampoline?

When I arrived at Airborne Trampoline Centre in Mississauga, Ont., young athletes were bouncing up about 10 feet in the air, twisting and flipping with grace. While it wasn't the 16- to 20-foot heights that Canadian Olympians such as Karen Cockburn, Rosie MacLennan and Jason Burnett achieve, it was still an awesome sight.

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"Is it easy to get injured doing this?" was my first question when I met head coach and former national champ Bryson Kerrigan. He assured me that as long as we followed all the safety rules and natural progressions with basic skills, the trampoline was quite safe.

A wide range of people use the facility, from kids jumping around to extreme sport enthusiasts and acrobatic and aerial athletes such as divers, freestyle skiers and board-sport enthusiasts. "For an older audience, trampoline presents an opportunity for a fun, low-impact form of exercise and a new social group," Mr. Kerrigan said. "To others it presents a very effective form of cross-training to develop better co-ordination, balance, core strength and body awareness."

After a short warm-up on solid ground, my heart rate was up – or was that just adrenalin? It was time to step, or rather, bounce onto the trampoline. We started with the basics, how to stay in the centre of the tramp and, most importantly, how to stop bouncing, by bending your knees with arms out front, like you are sitting on a motorcycle.

From there we proceeded through some simple jumps, such as pike (bounce, touch your toes in front), straddle (bounce, touch your toes to the side) and tuck (bounce, pull your knees to your chest). I felt like I was bouncing really high, but in reality I was only a foot or so off the trampoline bed. Next, I learned how to do body "drops" on my knees, butt and stomach, and 180-degree rotations in the air to change directions. On one of these rotations I bounced a little too high and off course, landing in a heap in the corner of the bed. (As I went sailing through the air I let a few choice words slip – I'm ashamed to say I wasn't much of a lady on the tramp.)

Despite my spill, I was grinning ear-to-ear. But I was a little alarmed when Mr. Kerrigan announced that we were going to combine the skills into a routine. I was in a state. The physical effort of trying to keep my core muscles tight while bouncing on target, combined with the mental concentration to execute each skill (and my underlying sense of dread), had me huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat. I looked at him like he was crazy, but agreed to give it a try.

Ever seen a fish flopping around out of the water? I'm sure that sums up my technique. No scores for presentation here. On the second run-through, I was more confident, but perhaps too much so, because I bounced a little too high, and as I came down with more speed into my front (stomach) drop, I wasn't able to get my head up in time, which resulted in a magnificent face plant, watering eyes and all.

I probably never reached more than a couple feet of height during my instruction. Wanting to make up for it, I asked if I could do some straight bouncing to go a little higher. I bounced away, and as I began to gain some altitude, I quickly started to feel out of control.

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"What do I do with my arms?" I called out. Mr. Kerrigan called back: "Whatever feels right." Good answer. Pinwheeling and flailing seemed to feel good.

I chickened out at what I can only imagine was only about three or four feet up in the air.

"The more height you get on the trampoline, the more balance and co-ordination you need," he explained. "As an individual jumps higher on the trampoline there is more force to contend with, requiring stronger muscles, especially core muscles for stability. The more you practise, the better you develop."

Practise I will. As I left, not only was I sweat-soaked and exhausted, I was so stoked by the experience that I told the coach I'd be back to participate in their fall adult sessions as cross-training. The only things I had perfected by the end of my intro session were some pretty good trampoline burns on my knees and elbows.

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