Featured Story
Featured Story

As I lay there, my body was flat against the cold hard cement, numb and immobile, with a pack of dogs sniffing around my head like it was a giant milkbone; the hard reality hit me. Trampoline jumps are wild fun ... until you miss.
I was ten at the time of the 'incident' and a junior wiz at gymnastics.   The neighbor kids who were older than me had a trampoline in their backyard. From my window I could watch them sailing high into the sky. I envied them and imagined myself doing all kinds of amazing gymnastic feats. My parents wouldn't buy me a trampoline, and they didn't want me to use the neighbor's, either.  All I could do was watch from my window hoping someday I would have a turn to fly.

My big chance occurred one Saturday morning when my neighbors asked if I would watch their dogs for the weekend. They didn't have to ask me twice. As soon as they drove off, I raced over to their house and let the dogs out. My parents weren't around, so I went into their yard and pulled myself up on the trampoline. I stood up and tested the tight springiness of the mat with a few small hops.

heartI gained confidence with every jump. With each rocketing bounce, I began to feel weightless and invincible. My elastic antics now had an audience, as the dogs, having completed their business, paused to watch the show.

I think you already know where this is leading.

I went for it. I remember flying up and spreading my arms wide out, then immediately sailed right past the edge of the trampoline. For a brief moment my skinny arms and legs flailed in a cartoonlike fashion. A second later, my body hit the concrete patio.

My landing pad was where my dog audience had just used the bathroom. I lay there, stunned. I had the wind knocked out me, a funny iron-like taste in my mouth, and the faint smell of fresh poo in my hair. All had not gone according to plan.

Eventually, I regained the feeling in my limbs, lifted myself from the concrete and took what was left of my pride and returned home. My parents never found out about my brief flight and subsequent crash. The only witnesses were my canine companions who agreed to remain silent in exchange for chew toys.

It's all fun and games until...

Trampoline mishaps like mine are part of our culture's living room fun -- just watch America's Funniest Home Videos, where kids and their parents fly off trampolines in predictable bang-ups that look bad but no one seems to get hurt. You laugh along with the show's audience. Catching one of these shows recently made me think back to my own crash landing. I couldn't help wondering how many real injuries lie hidden behind the laughter.

heart03Turns out, I was lucky. In the United States, thousands of people are seriously hurt every year romping on trampolines. From 2000-2005, trampoline accidents resulted in more than 88,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms, more than double during the entire previous decade. Most injuries occur at home, as trampolines become a fixture of more and more backyards.

The scary thing is that you can find stories and videos of stupid trampoline tricks all over the Internet. For instance, type 'YouTube trampoline basketball' into your search engine, and you'll find three teenaged boys bouncing on a trampoline, trying to slam dunk a basketball. One of them winds up hanging upside down, his leg caught in the rim, screaming in pain. Funny stuff, to kids.

The digital video capabilities of cell phones only add fuel to the combustible mix of kids + trampolines. Having a close shave like this caught on video is a proud trophy for many kids, especially in this 'two seconds of internet fame' world. What's more important... the number of hits to your crazy video, or your parent's safety rules?

You can buy safety screens for trampolines today, but they are no guarantee against accidents. The safety netting itself can be deadly. Tragically, in July 2007, a four-year-old in Texas died when his neck got caught in the safety netting straps on his family's trampoline.

As you can imagine, medical organizations and consumer advocate groups strongly dislike these toys. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against using trampolines at home, in playgrounds, and in gym classes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that parents should keep all children under age 6 off trampolines entirely.

"Propelling a child 8 to 10 feet into the air is inherently dangerous,"; says Michael S. Turner, MD, an Indianapolis pediatric neurosurgeon who serves on the AAP Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. "Parental supervision is recommended, but serious injury and death can occur even with adequate supervision."

"Trampolines and mini trampolines are NOT toys," says Richard Lichenstein, MD, a Maryland pediatrician who is also a member of the AAP committee. "I do not think they should be available to the general public. If they are purchased, I would try to ensure they are in an area without obstacles and that supervision and spotters are always available when children play on them."

Look before you leap

If you do get a trampoline, you need to take several safety steps:

    • Cover all exposed metal on the trampoline with safety pads.
    • Never place the trampoline on or near a hard surface, such as concrete. The surrounding surface should be made of an impact-absorbing material. And keep it away from fences and walls.
    • Consider setting the trampoline in a pit, so that the jumping surface is at ground level.
    • Never place ladders near the trampoline. You may be giving unintended access to small children.
    • Secure the trampoline to the ground and make it inaccessible when not in use.
    • Allow only one person at a time to use the trampoline.
    • Never allow your kids to use the trampoline without adult supervision.

I didn't know a thing about these rules back then. Obviously, I broke them. Thinking back, it gives me a little chill -; I'm glad the only thing I broke was the safety rules. Now, I'm not saying I've sworn off trampolines forever. I might climb up on one again. I'm still daring, and young enough to try to capture that weightless feeling for a little while. But, now -- a little more respectful of danger -- I put safety before invincibility. Sorry, YouTube.