Gymnast bouncing between countries
By ANDREW MCGINN firstname.lastname@example.org
As an animal person who loves showing horses, Sandra Dawson might just become a zoologist or a wildlife biologist.
But she also has a passion for gymnastics — trampoline, specifically.
What makes her unlike any other young athlete in Greene County is that she wouldn’t necessarily have to compete for the United States in the Olympics.
She could choose: her home country of Germany or her home country of the United States.
“I wish there was a German-American team,” Dawson said, preferring not to commit at age 15.
A freshman at Greene County High School, Dawson moved to Jefferson at the end of second grade, the daughter of a German mom (Petra) and a dad (Bill) who’s originally from Bagley.
That makes her a dual citizen.
Like scores of kids in this area growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, Bill Dawson’s family had a trampoline in their yard manufactured in Jefferson by the American Trampoline Co., the company that would become AAI.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Bill Dawson, now 54, said, recalling the metal springs ringing those old trampolines that may as well have been bear traps for kids.
“It definitely was not safe,” he said.
Admittedly, the Desert Storm veteran had no idea that trampolining was something you could actually compete in — all the way up to the Olympics, in fact, since 2000 — until his daughter came home from her first Bell Tower Festival parade with a flier from Elite Power Tumbling.
The Boone-based tumbling and trampoline team had a program in Jefferson until last year, when the pandemic shut its doors.
Neither of Sandra Dawson’s parents knew what they were in for.
Their daughter has since won a national championship in double mini-trampoline (in 2019), and has claimed the national runner-up spot two other times among novice girls: in trampoline in 2019 and double mini this past June. (The 2020 season was obviously cut short.)
After spending a good part of the summer in Germany with her two older sisters, Sandra Dawson is ready to start bouncing again for Elite Power Tumbling.
She’s still not sure how far she wants to go in trampolining, but her drive has one speed: Autobahn.
“You can ask my parents. I push myself way too hard at times to get it perfect,” she explained.
As Petra Dawson says, “My kid is a little too serious. Sometimes we have to pull the reins a little back.”
Sandra Dawson is especially driven this year to finally overcome her fear of doing a backflip as part of her trampoline routine.
There’s a strong case to be made that trampolining — not baseball, girls’ basketball or football — is the ultimate Jefferson sport, if not the ultimate Iowa sport.
For one, Jefferson-based American Athletic Inc. (AAI) has been the official equipment supplier to USA Gymnastics since 1963. It’s where Bill Dawson works as a machine operator.
Sandra Dawson competes in events sanctioned by the United States Trampoline and Tumbling Association (USTA), an organization co-founded in 1971 by George Nissen, an Iowa native who invented the trampoline as we know it in the 1930s.
This is where it gets interesting: AAI exists today only because Jefferson native and company co-founder Bill Sorenson won a legal challenge brought on by Nissen in the late 1950s over trademarks. A federal court in 1961 finally ruled that Nissen’s company couldn’t have exclusive rights to the word “trampoline.”
Both Sorenson and Nissen were former gymnastics champions at the University of Iowa. They’re also both today members of the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame, with the Nissen Award the top award for collegiate men’s gymnastics, and the AAI Award the top award for collegiate women’s gymnastics.
Sandra Dawson has admittedly had a difficult time adjusting to life in small-town Iowa.
“I didn’t want to be the lonely, weird kid in the corner,” she said.
Yet, she sometimes feels she is.
The thing is, Bill Sorenson’s legal victory 60 years ago was a win for everyone — even a girl who sometimes misses Germany.
All Sandra Dawson needs to do to feel closer to home is bounce: the competitive trampolines they use are made in Germany.