||In the spring of 1948 I entered Northwestern State College inNatchitoches,LA, and because I was a member of the swimming and gymnastics teams, was introduced to the trampoline. At that time, the trampoline was used primarily as a way to improve our springboard diving and gymnastics skills. Springboard diving was the main focus of my interest in sports at that time.During my college days at Northwestern I was extremely fortunate to meet two key people who would have an enormous influence on my future interest in trampoline – George Nissen, the inventor of the modern trampoline, and Ted Blake, fromGreat Britain, who was a member of the fledgling Nissen Corporation.
These two innovators inspired me to envision a role for myself in the potential of trampoline to eventually become an organized competitive sport with an international audience.
During this period of time we were using an early production of the Nissen trampoline that was 6 x12 ft. in size with a solid material for a bed and was suspended with shock cords. From that time on I became a friend of George Nissen and Ted Blake.
Down through the years I had the opportunity to visit and on several occasions travel with George overseas. One interesting memory I have of George was from a visit toSouth Africa. We were with a group of American and South African athletes and coaches on our way to the game reserve and ran out of gas on a desolate African road with little to no traffic when we saw a car in the distance. George did a handstand on the top of our minivan to attract the attention of the driver of the on-coming car to get the driver?s attention, and the driver did stop and gave us some gas so we could get to our destination. This was a typical thing for George to do ? whatever the situation.
George was responsible for getting many American trampoline teams to foreign countries to compete on the World stage. During that time the Americans ruled the sport of trampoline and continued to be the leaders of the sport for years to come. Because of George?s support and contribution of equipment, my athletes here inLafayette,Louisianawere able to develop into local, national, and world champions. All of my athletes had a tremendous respect for George Nissen and considered him a good friend.
We are all saddened by the passing of George Nissen, the inventor of the modern trampoline. Mr. Nissen, as we all knew him on the US Trampoline circuit, gave us the greatest gifts of our lives. He not only created athletic equipment that helped us achieve our goals, he provided opportunities in which to achieve them by sponsoring athletic events and our travel expenses.
Mr. Nissen sponsored some of my richest life experiences, including travel toEgypt,South Africa,USSRand more. These trips provided some of the most exciting moments of my life such as climbing pyramids, photographing exotic animals in the wild, making friends all over the world and winning sports titles. Without his ingenuity and contributions, my life would have been quite different. I couldn?t be more grateful to any one person outside of my family for their imagination, talent and generosity.
It gives me great delight to know that he witnessed trampoline become an Olympic sport before his passing. He was an inspiration.
The first time I met George Nissen, I was 12 years old. As destiny would have it, my middle school homeroom teacher, Xavier Leonard, was himself a former acrobat and old friend of George’s. My first year of middle school, Mr. Leonard announced that he was starting a trampoline and tumbling club after school, and I enthusiastically signed up. I had found a center around which to anchor the rest of my life. That spring, as I was learning the basics of jumping and acrobatics ? handstands, handsprings, and rudimentary somersaults on a beautiful Nissen folding trampoline ? Mr. Leonard asked me if I’d like to meet George Nissen himself ? the inventor of the trampoline, along with Frank Ladue, a champion jumper.
I had just devoured Frank Ladue’s book, Two Seconds of Freedom, which showed (through photos and some flip-through pages to give a sense of motion) more intermediate and advanced moves on the trampoline. It also had photos of George Nissen, smiling and fit. So his reputation preceded our meeting, and I was as one might imagine, awe-struck and a little tongue-tied. I showed him what I’d learned, a few flips, including a stomach-drop to back somersault (cody).
Mr. Nissen kindly suggested that if I did a 3/4 back somersault to my stomach prior to the cody, it would be even easier. But, to may total chagrin, on that day I lacked the courage to do a back flip to my stomach ? even for George Nissen! There is no way George or my teacher, Mr. Leonard, might EVER have predicted from my dismal performance that day, that I’d be doing 3/4 backs, 1 3/4 backs, and 2 3/4 backs to single, double and triple codys a few years later.
Looking back, I don’t think the purpose of my first meeting with George Nissen was to learn a 3/4 back, which I soon learned anyway ? it was a spark that set burning a desire to fulfill something I could not yet articulate ? an ambition or dream unfolding. What I remember most about him was his kindness ? the way he treated me like the most important young man in the world, as if he saw something in me that he couldn’t have seen based on my performance that day. The only thing obvious to anyone was my devotion to the art of trampolining.
To the best of my recollection, the next time I saw George Nissen was six years later, inLondonEngland? at Royal Albert Hall ? on the occasion of the First World Trampoline Championships, sponsored by George himself. I was 18 years old, a college freshman at U.C. Berkeley. Without going into detail about what transpired that day, I’ll just say that I was inspired to see not only George, but also Xavier Leonard, my old middle-school homeroom teacher and first trampoline and tumbling coach. When the day ended, I had won a world title.
As the years passed, I had other occasions to meet with George Nissen, once at his home inCedar Rapids,Iowa, where I had the pleasure of meeting his gracious wife, Annie. I got a tour of the Nissen factory. As the years passed, I was to see George only on rare occasions, but it was like picking up a conversation.
Along with hundreds of other friends and admirers, I attended George’s 80th Birthday Celebration inLas Vegas, where he pressed to a handstand on the table ? you and I can only dream of such a feat at 80 years old!
Many other people knew George Nissen far better than I ? they worked with him, saw him regularly, and have innumerable stories to tell. But for me, it wasn’t just his achievements, or the many patents he held as an engineer and inventory, that stand out. The one quality I find most important in any man or woman he had in super-abundance: It was kindness. He brought a quality of respect, attention, courtesy and kindness to his interactions. Seeing myself in George’s eyes made me willing to jump higher and become more than I might have otherwise dreamed. He had a huge impact in my life from that first meeting, and those that followed.
He will be missed by many, but remembered into the years, and will always serve as an inspiring model in my life and all those who knew him.
1964 Trampoline World Champion