Flipping for an Olympic Sized Dream

By Budd McLaughlin • Photos by Chris Jensen

Jeremiah Childs is like any other 14-year-old Huntsville kid.

He hangs out with his friends. He likes to eat hamburgers and to play football and basketball; he likes Kobe Bryant but his favorite player is Michael Jordan.

He’s hoping to compete in the Olympics, too, in a few years.

On the trampoline.

You see, Jeremiah is on the U.S. Junior National Trampoline & Tumbling team. Yes, the United States Junior National team. The team is under the USA Gymnastics umbrella; trampoline & tumbling has been an Olympic sport since 2000.

OK, so maybe he’s not like any other 14-year-old Huntsville kid.

He’s from the Lincoln Village section of North Huntsville and attends Lincoln Academy, a church school for students who are zoned to public Title I schools. It is in the historic Lincoln School on Meridian Street.

So, Jeremiah. Trampoline?

“I like flipping,” he said. “It’s fun.”

It was his flipping which caught the eye of members of The Light’s, Lincoln Village Ministries. The Light is among several area churches in the ministy which helps the youth in Lincoln Village by providing organized activities to help provide structure for the kids, as well as academic aid. One of the more popular activities among the boys is, of course, sports. They participate in local programs, including football, basketball and gymnastics.

Jeremiah was “discovered” when he and a group of his neighborhood friends were competing against each other with backflips. One of the church members, Thor Erlingsson, thought gymnastics would be a good direction for the kids. They went to The Matrix on Leeman Ferry Road and enrolled in the gymnastics program. While most of the kids left gymnastics and stayed with football and basketball, Jeremiah stayed with it, though his favorite sport isn’t gymnastics.

“Basketball is my favorite sport,” he said. “The tumbling helps my basketball and football with balance and speed.”

While he’s given up football, Jeremiah said he doesn’t feel any pressure or ridicule from his friends because he’s a gymnast. “They support me and think it’s good,” he said.

And now, he’s full-speed ahead on the trampoline with Olympic-size dreams.

Literally.

“My goal is the Olympics,” said the eighth-grader. He doesn’t envision 2016 but doesn’t rule out 2020.

“He is very talented,” said his coach Joy Umenhofer at The Matrix. “If he puts his mind to it, he is capable.”

Umenhofer is more than a coach to Jeremiah. She helped provide a maternal influence. There were difficulties in Jeremiah’s home and he would occasionally stay with Umenhofer, who has two sons. Eventually, though, Erlingsson and his wife were able to provide a more permanent home for the teen.

Thor Erlingsson, Jeremiah Childs and Joy Umenhofer

Thor Erlingsson, Jeremiah Childs and Joy Umenhofer

Over the last several years, Erlingsson committed himself to taking disadvantaged youths to sports activities – games, practices, etc.- after school and on weekends. It wasn’t unusual to see him drive up to a football practice or game with a vanload of eager athletes. In fact, he and his wife keep some of the kids at their home, providing a family-type environment.

Recently, the couple formally adopted Jeremiah. With stability in his life, Jeremiah was able to concentrate on his classwork – he’s an A student – and his trampolining.

Expressing his faith, Erlingsson is confident that Jeremiah will be a success – no matter what his endeavor. “All things are possible through Christ Jesus,” he said.

Jeremiah’s trampoline journey kicked into high gear when he was one of eight boys chosen for the gymnastics Olympic Development Program. Interestingly, three of the boys – including Jeremiah – were from Huntsville.

Now, he’s taken a major leap as a member of the Junior National team – he is also the lone Alabamian on the team. And in November, he will travel with Team USA to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the World Age Group championships.

He knows he will face tough competition in Bulgaria, but he said his toughest competitor will be Jeremiah Childs.

“I like competing,” he said. “Every time I compete, I set a higher standard; I try to keep improving myself. It’s a hard thing to do but you have to keep your focus on your goal.

“Just keep trying.”