Most kids would be happy spending their summer jumping on a backyard trampoline.
But one Metro East boy is testing his flipping skills in a national competition.
This week 10-year-old Micah Miner, of Glen Carbon, is traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, to compete in the U.S. Trampoline and Tumbling Association’s National Championships.
Micah, who earned back to back Illinois State Championship titles for USTA the past two seasons, is still pretty new to the sport. His coach, Trey Katz, calls him a natural.
“Just like, a crazy natural ability,” Katz said. “I mean, he has air awareness and certain things that you can only accumulate after being in this sport for 10 to 15 years. He's already doing it at the age of [ten].”
Several times a week, Micah travels about 100 miles from his home in Glen Carbon to train at Kris’ Power Tumbling Gym in Shelbyville, Illinois. His father, Maurice Miner, said the trampoline is where his son is happiest and most focused.
“Micah is the kind of athlete that, once he decides he’s going to do something, there's no holding him back. There’s no fear, there’s no anxiety. It’s all about -- I’m just going to do it!”
But this gymnast is a little different from his competition.
Micah’s parents said he has Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or PDD, which is a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Micah also has an older sibling with special needs, and his mother said they recognized certain signs early.
“Having a family that has special needs children can be difficult, I mean, it can be heart-wrenching,” said Micah’s mother, Kimberley. “We had decided, as a married couple, this was not going to change our family in a negative [way]. Matter of fact, we were determined to find the positive.”
Micah remained non-verbal until we was nearly 5 years old, but his parents say he was a very busy and active child.
“We had this child who doesn’t talk, but you couldn’t hold him still,” Kimberley said.
“I’m not going to let him break his neck on my couch and my bed, so we were members of the YMCA, and the YMCA had a gymnastics toddler and early development class so I just put him in. So what I didn’t realize was, this was the equivalent of putting a bee to honey. He took to it and just never let go.”
Classes at their YMCA eventually led to competitions. In During the 2015-2016 and 2016 seasons, Micah was a Southern Illinois State Champion for his age bracket, in the advance level of trampoline. During the national competition this week, he will compete in his age bracket again, but also in the elite level against gymnasts of all ages.
While Micah enjoys the competition and awards, his parents and coaches see another benefit of the sport. They watched as Micah began to interact with others, and build strong relationships.
“It was going to help him be engaged, and to really be able to know, ok, this is how society works,” Maurice explained “You’re not just by yourself, there’s a team here. So, it really helped develop him and bring him out of his shell and now he’s like a social butterfly!”.
“When he first came in, it was all one-word responses to all the girls and all the coaches,” Coach Katz said. “As he’s progressed on here, for the past year, it’s been crazy to see him change. And now he's having full conversations with people and he's telling jokes to the girls on the sides and doing dances for them and everything.”
Micah’s family has embraced the world of competitive trampoline and tumbling. They hope other families with children with disabilities will find that special passion and promote it.
“The best thing is to not let a diagnosis be something that is a limitation,” Maurice said. “Or something that is a sentence that says what you can’t do, more so than what you can.”
“Every child, every person has an ability and everyone has a gift,” Kimberley added. “I think that if we encourage our children, especially ones with special needs, to pursue whatever that is -- then we give them the tools to be successful.”