New Olympic sport sparks safety debate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 9, 2000

Gail Anders is worried about the dangers that may lurk in backyards across the area – trampolines. And she’s more worried that trampoline use will get a boost after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, which begin in September.

&uot;It just scares me to death to think that it’s going to be an Olympic event,&uot;&160;the 36-year-old said. &uot;Now children are going to be begging their parents for one, and the Olympics are just glorifying the dangers of jumping on trampolines.&uot;&160;

A trampoline accident in 1986 left Anders wheelchair-bound.

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As a junior at Delta State University, she was practicing dives on a trampoline with other members of the school’s swim team when the accident happened.

&uot;I could see in the middle of my dive that I was going to come down on my head,&uot; Anders said. &uot;I tried to brace myself, but my wrist gave way.&uot;

Even though Anders had spotters nearby, they could do little to help stop her fall. A severe sprain to the spinal cord left her a quadraplegic who has limited use of her arms and dependent on a wheelchair &uot;until they find a cure,&uot; she said.

Dr. Eugene Taylor, a Natchez local orthopedic surgeon, says Anders’ fears of trampolines are warranted.

&uot;In the orthopedic world, they are considered extremely dangerous,&uot;&160;Taylor said. &uot;Any number of injuries occur when someone is jumping on a trampoline. The dangers far outweigh the benefits.&uot;

Natchez pediatrician Dr. David Timm of Natchez echoes Taylor’s opinion.

&uot;They are just simply highly dangerous devices,&uot; Timm said. &uot;Even the safety devices that they have now don’t diminish the dangers of the trampoline. The risk/benefit ratio is just so overwhelming that I don’t know why anyone would use one, much less buy one.&uot;

The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that about about 95,000 people are injured each year in trampoline accidents. About 75 percent of those injured are under the age of 15.

Backyard recreation

Despite the possible danger associated with trampolines, their popularity is at an all-time high.

Dr. Charles Borum of Natchez is one of those millions who enjoys owning a trampoline.

The Natchez family physician said he has never seen a patient with a trampoline injury, and no one in his family has ever been injured.

&uot;I don’t allow any flipping around or acrobatic stuff,&uot; he said. &uot;We use it mainly for excercise. When you start flipping around, that’s when you have neck or head injuries. But it’s like anything else, you can injure yourself on a lot of things. If you are not paying attention jumping in a pool headfirst, you can hurt yourself.&uot;

Recreation or athletics?

Many trampoline users say they use the devices to help improve their athleticism.

&uot;I’ve been jumping on it off and on,&uot; said Brent Cutrer, an 18-year-old recent graduate of Adams County Christian School. &uot;And the truth of the matter is, it has helped me tremendously in muscular development and basic motor skills.&uot;

Cutrer, who ran track and field and played tennis while attending ACCS, used his trampoline as a tool to help build &uot;leg strength and coordination.&uot;

Injury debate

The debate on whether trampolines are inherently good clean fun or inherently dangerous may never be resolved.

But Dr. James Bennett, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Tulane University Sports Medicine Clinic in New Orleans, says the debate should be resolved

”You (normally) can’t get two doctors to agree to leave a burning building,&uot; he said. &uot;And you’ve got two organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, that have both come to the conclusion that this is a bad thing.&uot;

Bennett says he is amazed that despite warnings from the medical community, parents continue to purchase trampolines for their children.

”It’s kind of funny. You say to the parents, ‘these things are dangerous,’ and they say, ‘well, kind of. We’ve had it three years and we’ve only had five fractures.”’

Trampoline owners need to treat the equipment with respect, Bennett said.

”Athletes, acrogymnasts, I don’t have as much of a problem with that,” he added. ”These are people competing for something that means a great deal to them. They’re prepared to make sacrifices to accomplish that goal. … What I’m saying is the everyday use of the trampoline, with parents not supervising or the kids sneaking over to a neighbors house, is dangerous.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.