Gymnasts bounce their way to the top
Their toes pointed downward, they spring into the air, soaring far above every head in the place.
On three, they explode into action and begin to twist, melodic hybrids of a gymnast and diver. They move in perfect unison: Each bounce off the trampoline is followed by an aerial twist at precisely the same moment.
All around, younger children -- who moments before were bouncing lazily on those very trampolines -- watch in amazement. The feats they are seeing are top-notch.
They are, in fact, some of the very moves that won these athletes first place at the USA Gymnastics Trampoline and Tumbling National Championships in Tennessee this summer.
Indeed, Rockford athletes Kevin Heger and Andrew Muzzarelli are among the top in the nation, having arrived at nationals as two of 1,600 athletes.
If they have their way, they’ll also be among the top in the world. Already, they have competed in Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The pair plan to compete among international athletes again later this year.
For Muzzarelli, an 18-year-old at Guilford High School, making a name for himself internationally would be the ultimate reward.
“I’ve put so much of my life into it, so much training, so much effort,” he said. “Just knowing I could … be one of the top in the world is very rewarding.”
Their sport, synchronized trampoline, calls for each athlete to launch himself roughly 30 feet in the air for a series of 10 tricks. They do these flips and twists side-by-side at exactly the same time.
It requires the skill of a gymnast and the agility of a diver, so both Heger and Muzzarelli train at the Gymnastic Academy of Rockford while also competing for their high school diving teams.
“They go hand in hand with each other,” Muzzarelli said.
Both athletes entered their sports because other family members did it: For Muzzarelli, it was his sister. For Heger, his parents. In fact, his mother and father met while competing in Germany on the trampoline. Mother Ute continues to coach the pair, and a younger son, here in Rockford.
“I’ve been doing trampoline as long as I can remember,” said Heger, a 17-year-old from Auburn High School. “I’ve been doing it longer than I haven’t been doing it. It’s really unique, something not everyone does.”
The boys practice for about eight hours a week on the trampoline, but both say it’s just a hobby for the here and now. Muzzarelli plans to become either a chef or a physical trainer; Heger wants to go into graphic design.
“I’m just doing it to discipline me for the future,” Heger said, explaining that the sport has taught him an abundance of patience. “Learning to understand that, just because you don’t get it now doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get it later. You have to work on it."