Reaching new heights
When trampolinist Rosie MacLennan won Canada’s only gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, it was a big payoff after 16 years of training with an innovator in the sport, Team Canada coach Dave Ross, Artsci’73. Rosie’s medal-winning performance was cited for its technical difficulty and the heights she reached on the trampoline. Dave’s background in physics, as well as gymnastics, played a big part there, too.
At Queen’s, Dave was on the men’s gymnastics team from 1968 to 1973. At that time, trampoline was not a sport for university teams, but there was a trampoline in the old gym for the students’ exercise and practice. “During exams,” says Dave, “I was a real crammer. When you’re in physics, you can have seven 100 per cent finals, so when I needed a break from studying, I’d go to the gym and I’d do an hour of trampoline. I got hooked on it.”
After graduation, Dave began working with the Kingston Gymnastics Club. He raised money for a trampoline and secured space in an unfinished basement below the old Ross Gym. That marked the start of the Kingston Aeros Trampoline Club, home to several future Canadian and World Champions and Olympians, including Allison (Pester) Pinkerton, Artsci/PHE’85, Ed’88, Heather Ross-McManus, and Brenna Casey, MSc’06.
In 1990, Dave made a bold move as a coach and an entrepreneur. “I got tired of being in the corner of other people’s gyms,” he says. He opened Skyriders Trampoline Place in Richmond Hill, ON, the first custom-built trampolining facility in Canada. Here, Dave trains three Olympic trampolinists: Karen Cockburn, Rosie MacLennan, and Jason Burnett (and trained a fourth, Mathieu Turgeon, before his retirement from the sport).
Dave and his Skyriders athletes can boast six Olympic medals since trampoline became an Olympic sport in 2000. “But I didn’t start coaching to win medals,” he says. “I enjoy coaching; I like working with the kids. Probably my claim to fame as a coach is that the kids stay in it for a long time.” Karen (a three-time Olympic medalist), now 31, started working with Dave at age 9; Rosie, at age 8.
From his early coaching days, Dave kept thinking about ways he could improve trampoline equipment to help his athletes. He saw that trampoline springs didn’t have much of a life-span. “So I designed a new spring and found a company that would make it for me.” He had a batch made and sold 60 at his club, “and the rest sat under my bed for about two years, until people noticed that those first ones hadn’t worn out yet!” He had found his market.
Later, Dave experimented with making trampoline beds. Today, his company, Rebound Products, has clients (including Cirque de Soleil) that need custom-sized beds that will take a great deal of use. One of Rebound’s most famous trampolines, called Supertramp, is a giant 20-by-13-foot bed that allows athletes to reach new heights. “Knowing a little bit about calculus and circuits and operational amplifiers,” Dave says, “I designed a trampoline that would boost you on every bounce.” His newest Supertramp beds allow athletes to jump 35 per cent higher than on smaller trampolines.
In 2007, Rebound Products provided all the trampolines for the Trampoline World Championships, the qualifier for the Beijing Olympics. Many of Dave Ross’s innovations – from the use of corner springs and braces to new designs for springs and webs – have been adopted worldwide, and he continues to do research to make trampolines both more powerful and more stable.
He definitely credits his Queen’s training in physics and math for helping him in his design work. “But I think that what has allowed me to be successful is not giving up. If you don’t stop until you reach your goal, that gumption is what makes the difference.”