High Bounce, High Risk

July 07, 1995|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff Writer

Mention trampolines to orthopedic surgeon Hugh W. Baugher and he thinks fractured forearms, sprained ankles, broken necks, pure lunacy.

"I've got neighbors who are intelligent people up the hill," he says impatiently. "They have MBAs from Stanford. I told them they were crazy [to own a trampoline].

"They finally folded it up when all three of their children were in casts."

In Dr. Baugher's Ruxton neighborhood -- and in back yards across the country -- trampolines are sprouting like mushrooms after a summer rain.

The round, rectangular and octagonal polypropylene beds are a powerful magnet for youngsters -- and a reprieve for parents weary of the summer mantra, "There's nothing to do."

This year about a half-million consumers will buy "tension surface rebound devices."

They'll discover that every bounce fuels the next, higher bounce. And that trampolines invite experimentation, derring-do and the neighborhood gang for a little midnight moshing.

And they may discover the hard way that things can soar quickly out of control.

Only two of Dr. Baugher's neighbors were injured on their tramp; the third broke a thumb playing basketball.

But for four years, "Baugher kept telling us, 'Look out, look out, somebody's going to get hurt,' " says John Sasser, owner of the MBA from Stanford and former owner of said trampoline.

"All of a sudden, two of them hurt themselves in one week."

It happened two years ago, around Easter. Mr. Sasser's daughter, Hunter, now 14, jammed an elbow while doing a seat drop and received minor nerve damage.

Then son Flip sprained an ankle while he and big brother Jack played a game that required each of them to jump high and knock the other one down by stealing his bounce.

When Nancy Sasser arrived at Children's Hospital for the second time in a week with the hobbling Flip, Dr. Baugher produced a medical text with a chapter on trampoline injuries and ordered her to read it.

Otherwise, he threatened in jest, he would report her to social services.

Not long after that, John Sasser dismantled the trampoline while the kids were out.

But Flip continues to jump on it -- it was bequeathed to a neighbor. Should that one disappear, there's a backup just down the hill.

Until recently, the trampoline was an unfamiliar sight on the domestic front. The apparatus was more commonly viewed as a circus staple or training tool in gymnastics, diving and aerial skiing.

But the new generation of tramps -- cheaper and more portable -- are widely available at wholesale clubs, hardware and pool stores.

A family can pick one up at the gas station en route to the beach in Florida, part of the "Trampoline Belt" that extends through the Southern states to Texas, and where the climate makes trampolining a year-round sport.

A recent episode of "The Simpsons" is proof that, for better or worse, trampolines have wedged themselves into the suburban landscape.

When Homer Simpson erects a cast-off trampoline in his back yard, he is besieged by youthful customers who are soon moaning in pain from their injuries.

But Homer can't trash the tramp no matter how hard he tries. It just keeps bouncing back.

That, in fact, has been the history of the tramp. It rebounds and mutates with intriguing ingenuity.

Devotees of today's backyard tramp may not realize that Americans created the sport of trampolining and once dominated international competition -- that was, until lawyers and insurance companies came along.

The thrill of flying

Now the new breed of tramp is under suspicion. In the scrutinizing mind of a commercial insurance underwriter, trampolines rank with such products as spider venom used in neurological research and medical implants.

All are risky, risky, risky.

In an exquisitely pure and joyful way, the trampoline translates the physics of bouncing. Give it your weight, and the trampoline gives it back, launching you skyward.

"It feels like you are flying!" says 8-year-old Carl Cunningham, who shares his Roland Park trampoline with two big sisters, their friends and a dog.

You defy gravity until the apex of the bounce, and then, you are essentially in an accelerating free fall until hitting the bed again.

The thrill lies in the fall, which produces an internal rush that bypasses the usual circuitry.

It's pure sensation.

Landing is the payback for such rapture. But the beauty of riding Newton's law in a rollout flip can disintegrate point blank into a biomechanical nightmare.

It might be a sprained ankle, or it might be quadriplegia.

Get a little crazy -- leap from tramp to pool, from roof to tramp, use it to vault a car, practice your snowboard moves -- and the potential for injury swells accordingly.

But getting a little crazy is precisely the point.

If the Cunningham kids played by the written rules, they wouldn't be able to do their favorite thing: Spritz the trampoline with water from the hose and slip, slide and bounce all over the place.

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