Two years ago, Jireh van Staden was not officially participating in any sport, but his love for jumping led to him winning a gold medal at the recent African Junior Trampoline Championships in Cairo.
The Tuks gymnast, along with Siyabulela Siwa, Luka Angileri and Enzo Henning, won gold in the team competition and the 14-year-old was fourth in the individual double mini-competition.
Van Staden, who is being homeschooled, said the only real exercise he got two years ago was bouncing around on a mini-trampoline at home.
His mom then suggested he take it up as a sport. At first, he refused as he considered it to be boring but after doing some research, he reconsidered and joined the Tuks Trampoline Club.
Lucky Radebe, a former African champion who finished seventh at the 2009 World Games and seventh at the 2014 World Championships, started to coach him.
One of the first things Radebe taught his young protegee was that it’s not about jumping as high as you can while trying doing backwards and forwards somersaults.
‘To be successful in trampoline means you need to be strong and flexible but you should also have good body control and body awareness. Basically our sport boils down to being fearless and having mind control. The human body is capable of amazing feats if the mind allows it certain freedom,’ explains Radebe.
‘It’s a myth that the higher you jump, the better you will perform. I average about five to six metres, the same as a pole vaulter when I train or compete. It is all about body control. Good technique is of the utmost importance,’ explained Radebe.
Van Staden turned out to be an astute student of the sport, often training five hours a day.
The challenge Van Staden has set himself this year is to master the triple somersault. If he can do so, he could be a definite medal contender at next year’s African Championships.
‘At the moment I can execute the triple somersault during training, but my technique is not yet what it should be. In my sport, it is all about perfect execution. There’s no margin for error. I’m still battling to get to the correct height before I start tumbling. A metre too high or too low could lead to me landing flat on my face.’
For now, Radebe does not want the youngster to be obsessed with winning.
‘He has got time on his side so the most important thing at the moment is that he enjoys what he is doing. The results will come once he gains more confidence on the trampoline and in his abilities.’
Radebe has had to put his own competitive career on hold for the moment as he is recovering from a severe knee injury.
‘I haven’t given up on my dreams to represent South Africa again at major championships, but I’ve learned the hard way that patience is a virtue. It does not help to force things as it only leads to new injuries.’
Photo: Van Staden hard at training, by Reg Caldecott