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Everyday Athlete

By Cindy Luis

LAST UPDATED: 02:32 a.m. HST, Dec 31, 2010

Getting to the Olympics is hard enough. Getting respect for her Olympic sport at times feels even harder for Nani Vercruyssen. "I tell people I'm a trampolinist and most think it's about doing flips in the backyard," Vercruyssen said. "They don't understand that it's an Olympic sport."

And it has been since 2000, when trampoline gymnastics debuted at the Sydney Olympics. It will again be contested in London in 2012, and the 18-year-old Vercruyssen is one of the rising stars on the U.S Trampoline and Tumbling National Team.

Nani Vercruyssen, 18
Trampoline gymnast

The Kapiolani Community College freshman had the highest placing for an American at last month's Pan American Cup in Mexico, earning a bronze. However, at this point of the Olympic qualifying process, countries are trying to qualify spots in the London Games, not specific individuals.

"It's all about team, team, team," the 2010 Roosevelt High graduate said. "But it would be so exciting to compete at the Olympics. Who imagines that when they first start?"

Vercruyssen began as a 9-year-old, training under her parents, both of whom were accomplished gymnasts: Dr. Max Vercruyssen and Dr. Donna Mah. Her parents founded Hawaii Academy, where she and her three sisters began artistic gymnastics, which includes floor ex, balance beam, vault and uneven bars.

"We had trampolines in our gym," Nani Vercruyssen said. "I learned all of my skills in artistic gymnastics and transferred them over to the trampoline."

Competition involves two routines, compulsory and voluntary. There are no time limits, but gymnasts must show 10 different skills, which requires endurance training.

Vercruyssen said she builds up strength by running up Frank Street on St. Louis Heights and on the track. There's also workouts at Hawaii Academy, where she also teaches classes.

"We offer beginning trampoline for adults," she said. "People are surprised at how much fun it is. It takes your mind off of other stuff. It's good exercise, too."

Vercruyssen's next international competition could be the Pan American Games this coming October. The U.S. team will be announced some time next year.

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