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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Hawai'i teenagers defying gravity

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Matt Moniz, left, and Kira Vercruyssen get in some rare down time while taking a break during trampoline gymnastics training. The 15-year-olds each won a gold medal at the USA Gymnastics Trampoline and Tumbling Junior Olympics.

Photos by Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Cords dangled wildly from the steel-beamed ceiling under which stood two large trampolines, the kind kids dream they had in their backyards. Ponytailed girls in leotards bounced, twisted, flipped and flopped on the springy ride, perfecting tucks and spins more than 10 feet in the air. Some bounced in bungee seats, spinning and screaming and laughing.

But make no mistake. This is not an amusement park. The Hawai'i Academy, tucked away in the Iwilei area on Sumner Street, is a serious gym for serious athletes. Trampoline ones.

Trampoline gymnastics was introduced at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. One of three disciplines of gymnastics recognized by the Olympics, trampolining fuses the athleticism of gymnastics with the aesthetics of aerial acrobatics.

Trampolines for competition are much more sophisticated than playground ones. Measuring 15.5 feet long, 9.6 feet wide and 3.8 feet high, they are designed to propel athletes as high as 30 feet. On a single jump trampoliners can catch enough hang time to complete quadruple somersaults.

It was that high-flying fun that attracted Kira Vercruyssen and Matt Moniz to the sport.

Both 15-year-olds competed in gymnastics for the Hawai'i Academy before adding trampolining to their teenager-busy schedules two years ago.

And in Hawai'i's first appearance at the USA Gymnastics Trampoline and Tumbling Junior Olympic Championships in Indianapolis last month, both won gold medals in their age and level divisions.

Vercruyssen, a sophomore at Kaiser High School, won the double mini trampoline event; Moniz, a freshman at 'Aiea High School, won the trampoline event. They represented the Hawai'i Academy and Aloha Gymnastics World, the two gyms where they train.

"We thought we were, at best, going to finish somewhere in the middle," said Vercruyssen, who has been training in gymnastics for four years, trampoline for two. "It was really a fun experience, especially to see what the sport is really about."

Double mini trampoline is a relatively new addition to the sport that combines the horizontal run of tumbling with the vertical rebound of the trampoline. After a short run, the athlete jumps onto a small two-level trampoline to perform a rebounding trick immediately followed by a dismount element onto a landing mat.

Think springboard diving but using a mat instead of water.

"The equipment has evolved tremendously, so the athletes bounce higher and the tricks are much more difficult," said Wendy Rosen, trampoline coach at the Hawai'i Academy, who took teams to national competitions in 1989 and 1990. "The technique has become so fine-tuned that the execution (of each trick) has become more important."

Rosen, who has been trampolining since she was 7, has seen vast improvements in Vercruyssen and Moniz since she started training them a year ago.

"He's a real go-getter," Rosen said about Moniz. "He's willing to really try.

"She has such beautiful execution up there," she added about Vercruyssen. "But they both still need to work on executing more difficult skills to be more competitive."

Though she competed at level 8, which is two levels below elite, Vercruyssen made an impression on national team athletes, who invited her to train with them in Idaho later this year.

With a demand for female trampoline competitors, Vercruyssen could become the first Olympian from Hawai'i in any discipline of gymnastics, should she continue with her training. But for now, she's just focused on advancing to higher levels in the sport. The Olympics are an afterthought.

"It would be nice," Vercruyssen said. "But right now I really want to get to level 10. But if I could go to the Olympics, that would be really fun."

Kira Vercruyssen practices holding extension — a maneuver that scores points. The Kaiser High sophomore says her background in gymnastics helps her in trampoline competitions.
As in the other disciplines of gymnastics, there are far fewer male participants than female. That's both good and bad for Moniz, who wants to continue competing in the sport.

He won the gold medal in trampoline, but he only competed against one other athlete in his division. Though he has a notable hang time — nearly two seconds in the air on each of the 10 jumps — there isn't enough competition out there to push him to the next level. He has to push himself.

But that isn't new to Moniz. After his father died from complications with diabetes five years ago, he nearly gave up on gymnastics and dancing, his passion. But Moniz regained a motivation to continue training, something his father would have been proud of, and poured himself into both.

"It was really hard for me to deal with," Moniz said, his voice lowered. "I was really close to him. I miss him a lot."

Trampolining has been more than just a good workout and training mechanism for Moniz and Vercruyssen, who have used it to work on flips and twists for gymnastics. It has renewed in them a sense of enthusiasm for the highly competitive sport.

"You can do a lot more on the trampoline than you can on the floor," Moniz said.

And the atmosphere at trampoline competitions is different from gymnastics, Vercruyssen added: "It was a lot more fun. It wasn't as competitive. People weren't as nervous. It was so much more relaxed."

Her father, Max Vercruyssen, a former gymnast, brought trampolining to the Hawai'i Academy, where he has been the director for three years.

"It's a lifelong sport," said Vercruyssen, a University of Hawai'i professor with a doctorate in neural motor control and geriatrics. "A lot of people retire from gymnastics to trampoline."

The forgiving surface of the trampoline makes it an ideal sport for athletes of any age, he said. And it's great cross-training for gymnasts.

"(Our background in gymnastics) gave us an advantage," said Kira Vercruyssen. "We have the experience of flipping in gymnastics. On the trampoline we are much more aware of where we are. And we have experience in competition. That definitely helped."