Rosie MacLennan and Karen Cockburn share a laugh

Skyriders is the Centre of Trampoline Success

On Leslie Street in Richmond Hill, Ontario sits what once was an automobile garage. But long ago the floor was dug out, dropped, and dug further. In-ground trampolines were installed, mats surrounding them. And for more than a decade, “Skyriders Trampoline Place” has been home to Canada’s best trampoline gymnasts.

Here Karen Cockburn trained to become a triple Olympic medallist. It is also home to Jason Burnett, who won a silver medal last summer in Beijing. Among its other gymnasts is Rosannagh MacLennan, who finished 7th in the finals in Beijing and who just defeated Cockburn to become 2009 Canadian champion.

MacLennan told that Skyriders features some of the world’s best trampoline equipment. “We have one of the best facilities in the world, one of the safest facilities in the world,” she said. “Though I may be biased.”

The architect of Skyriders is Dave Ross, a national trampoline coach since 1976. Ross has coached Mathieu Turgeon, Cockburn and Burnett to five Olympic medals since 2000. Ross designs and builds his own trampolines, five of which take up the floor of Skyriders. One is a “supertramp”, twice the size of a regular trampoline, where MacLennan said gymnasts can bounce much higher, ideal for learning new tricks.

Such Olympic success emanating from a single gym is not typical. But such is the case for Skyriders, and MacLennan said there is no one reason to explain it. Having an experienced coach (and former athlete) such as Ross is big. As a maker of equipment, Ross knows how to utilize it best, understands different aspects of the sport, and is adept at keeping his athletes calm and composed.

“He is much more laid back than people might think of a coach of that calibre,” MacLennan said. The coach exudes a calm persona even amid the most intense competitions. “He doesn’t get stressed out. Even if he is worried on the inside, he doesn’t let the athletes know.”

MacLennan said he helped relieve her during an extremely anxious time at the 2008 Olympic Games. “He pulled me aside and asked me what was really going on,” she said. “He said, ‘you’ve come so far and one competition, one day is not going to define who you are and what you’re able to do.”

Skyriders employs a fun atmosphere, supported by a positive group dynamic where athletes work with each other as well as socialize. Also: it helps to have some of the world’s top gymnasts mentor up-and-coming athletes.

Case in point: 20-year-old MacLennan and Cockburn, eight years her senior. When MacLennan was starting out, she modelled her young career after what Cockburn had done at that age. Then, at the national team level, the two began training together. They became synchro partners, even rooming together on the road.

“I’ve benefitted from her a lot,” said MacLennan, who was a bridesmaid at Cockburn’s wedding. “Her experiences, especially before Beijing, were beneficial for me. It helped me know what to expect, know what I needed to do.”

MacLennan described her Beijing experience as “amazing”, and she achieved her goal of making the finals (top eight). Now Canadian champion for the second time (also 2005), MacLennan is also ranked high in the world. Right now, she has five to six two-hour training sessions a week on the trampoline, as well as two to three stints in the gym. (The pace increases when a major competition draws near.)

Motivated and having fun, she and Ross are setting new goals for the future, with an understanding of what tricks, level of difficulty and skills she’ll need to make a splash at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“I feel that there is a lot I can accomplish with the sport,” MacLennan said.

No word yet on whether Cockburn will join her in the push for London 2012, but Cockburn continues to have fun and train beneath the high ceilings of Skyriders.