By Leaps and Bounds 

Downtown is site of national gymnastics competition.

Twenty feet in the air, the young athlete seems as confident as if he were standing on the ground. Within seconds, he drops back to the surface of the trampoline, which contours to his feet for a moment before he springs even higher.

At the USA Gymnastics' 2007 Trampoline and Tumbling National Championships, youths and young adults from around the country are bouncing about everywhere.

As the athletes warm up at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, a young woman sprints onto a mini-trampoline before catapulting herself into the air. Nearby, men with triangular torsos leap and flip in synchronization.

Clearly, no one here is scared of heights.

But it takes far more than confidence to arrive at the national championships. According to Ann Sims, trampoline and tumbling program director, "Anyone can jump on a trampoline, but to excel, you need spatial awareness, flexibility, and a strong mental attitude."

Sims, who has been with USA Gymnastics since 1999, first became interested in trampoline and tumbling when her children participated in the sports. Now, she witnesses others determined to excel.

"They have to jump through all the hoops to get here," she says. And, of course, they have to jump quite a bit literally.

This year, more than 1,700 athletes are competing in the championships.

Because trampoline and tumbling competitions are dangerous, safety must be taken seriously, Sims emphasizes: "All sports have liabilities, but we limit that to a minimum through the best equipment and safety."

According to Sims, trampoline and tumbling are evolved forms of activities children enjoy anyway. "With competing, the kids just go higher and faster," she explains.

Elite athletes soar up to 20 feet, Sims tells me. I later notice coaches and safety guards huddling around a trampoline, necks craned, while a young athlete rises higher and higher. Her turquoise leotard shimmers as she artfully twists her torso and extends her legs.

But Sims is referring just as much to passion as to physical skill when she states, "This is when they peak."

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