Lakewood Ranch High junior Alex Brown masters the trampoline.
At just 3 years old, Alex Brown already caused some concern for his parents by carrying all his weight forward, constantly walking on the balls of his feet and his 10 tiny toes.
As a way to strengthen their son’s ankles and Achilles tendons, Brown’s parents, Russ and Liz, signed him up for recreational gymnastics classes at Kids Supergym in Lakewood Ranch.
At Kids Supergym, he was introduced to the trampoline, and his manner of walking no longer was important. He felt completely at ease.
“It’s like I can do anything,” said Brown, who is now a 16-year-old Lakewood Ranch High junior. “I feel in control of whatever I do. It came so naturally to me, and it just took my mind off everything.”
Russ Brown was just happy it all worked out.
“I don’t know what we did, but we did something right,” Russ Brown said.
In the 13 years since the Browns had their son join Kids Supergym, he has become a Level 10 trampolinist and has aspirations of taking his skill to the elite level and hopefully one day the professional level.
Looking to focus more on the competitive aspect of the trampoline, Brown transitioned to North Port's Horizon Gymnastics team last year. He practices after school three days a week for three hours.
“They don’t mess around there,” said Brown, who won a Florida state trampoline championship for Level 10, age 17 and up, and finished third at the regional meet, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Most recently, he qualified for the USA Gymnastics Trampoline and Tumbling Championships June 9-13, in Providence, R.I., where he finished third out of 14 competitors in his first national championship meet.
Brown sat in eighth place following the preliminary round to earn the final spot in the finals. During the finals, he posted the highest score for his optional routine, earning 45.180 points, to move up five spots and capture the bronze medal.
While the compulsory routine features mandatory elements, the optional routine allowed Brown to separate himself from the rest of the competition.
“You have more variety to choose from,” Brown said. “Every kid has a completely different routine. None of them are alike, which makes it a lot more challenging. It’s all about how hard you’re willing to push yourself in the sport.”
While the harder elements may look cooler in the air, they are still somewhat difficult to watch from the stands.
“To watch him do it is just phenomenal," Russ Brown said. 'He makes it look easy like he’s flying. But it's scary.”
The USA Gymnastics Trampoline and Tumbling Championships was Brown's toughest challenge, but it allowed him to face athletes who have Olympic aspirations.
“It was the closest I’ve gotten to reaching my goal of becoming a professional,” Brown said. “Nerves definitely got me. You’re competing against the whole country. There were a lot of people there and the judges see who makes the Olympics and who doesn’t.”
Aside from the play it received during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, trampoline is a relatively uncommon sport.
When students hear that Brown is a trampolinist, he is met with looks of confusion. Brown usually gets asked to flip around, which his coaches have encouraged him not do off the trampoline.
Instead, Brown points them to a YouTube video to offer a description of his sport.
“They definitely get a sense of what a really cool sport it is,” Brown said. “You flip a lot. It’s really a mental and physical endurance sport. It’s crazy.”
Brown learned how to do a double back flip when he was 8 years old in preparation for his first trampoline competition and a year later he became a Level 6 trampolinist. Over the next three years, Brown advanced to Level 9 status, learning new skills, such as standing backflips, before and after practice.
“When you love something as much as I do, you will be good at it,” Brown said. “Nervousness is a part of the sport, but you learn from your mistakes very fast.”
Following his successful national meet, Brown returned to the gym to begin training for the upcoming competitive season, which begins in January, in the hopes of making open elite status. Brown plans to compete in roughly five meets next year and has aspirations of making the U.S. Junior National Team — the next step in a long series of stepping stones.
“I want to make the Olympics,” Brown said. “It’s a known title to every athlete whose sport is in the Olympics. That’s the end goal now to be able to compete for my country. Every competitor wants to go as far in his or her sport as he or she can, and to me, that’s the farthest you can go."