Flying high: Freshman hopes to jumpstart trampoline at UK



By Kurt Boehringer and Aaron Smith

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At the age of 5, James Hawkins did something most 5-year-olds wouldn’t do. He saw a gap between his couch and the coffee table, and wanted to jump it. So he did.

But he didn’t make it — he cracked his head on the table.

Instead of stopping, Hawkins jumped more. And more. And more. His mom took him to get trampoline classes, and he’s been jumping ever since.

“I get to jump twenty feet in the air and do the scariest things in the world,” Hawkins said. “But I don’t think they’re scary.”

Hawkins, a freshman, has won 18 national championships in trampoline and tumbling and is competing at the elite level in the 16-and-up division. He was also the winner of other prestigious awards, including The Nissen-Grisswold Athlete of the Year Cup and The George Nissen Sportsmanship Cup.

He has accumulated a lot of hardware – too much to keep all of it.

“I’ve actually thrown some of the smaller trophies away,” Hawkins said. “They just take up space and no one really cared about them.”

His 18 championships came from a mixture of three events he competes in every year: the trampoline, the double-mini trampoline and the tumbling event.

“One year I won all three events at nationals, and one year I didn’t win any,” Hawkins said. “Some years you’re good, some years you’re not.”

Hawkins has long been the one putting on a show for others. When you’re in fifth grade and can do a double front flip (with some spins thrown in, too) most kids are going to watch.

“I was doing multiple flipping skills by fifth grade,” Hawkins said. “On the trampoline level, they weren’t that impressive of tricks, but to everyone else it’s amazing. I’ve always been the performer.”

Being the center of attention has always been fine with him.

“You can’t be a trampoliner and not enjoy the role,” Hawkins said. “It’s such a high-flying sport, everyone always loves watching you.”

Now, Hawkins still dazzles children with his tricks and flips. At Legacy Gymnastics in Lexington, Hawkins helps teach younger kids the art of trampoline and tumbling.

“I feel like the father, almost,” Hawkins said. “I don’t mean to say this in a bragging way, but I’m kind of a role model to a lot of those kids. They aspire to get to my level and compete with the best.”

Hawkins is the only trampolinist in Kentucky currently competing at the elite level. This is his second year of participating with the U.S. Trampoline and Tumbling Association’s National Team. Being the lone standout in the state does affect him.

“Lots of local meets are really boring,” Hawkins said. “There’s no one to compete with. It’s kind of sad because Kentucky used to have a strong trampoline program. The only big meets anymore are in the Chicago, New England areas and on the coasts.”

Hawkins plans on starting up a trampoline program at UK, although he has yet to begin any kind of formal process. He said he is waiting to see if the USTA is going to open up a college division before he decides whether or not to proceed with his goal. Regardless, he wants to start a trampoline program so others can enjoy the fun and, like him, “make fun of gravity every day.”