Saying Good-Bye to a pioneer: George Nissen 1914-2010

It was at a circus in Cedar Rapids Iowa that young George Nissen watched the trapeze artists drop to safety on a large net and wondered “what makes that work and why couldn’t  I build one?” That was 1930 and young George was only 16 and a member of the gymnastics and diving teams at his school. His first incarnation was made in his parents’ garage where he strapped together a rectangular steel frame and a canvas sheet. He called it the  “bouncing rig”. We call it a trampoline.

Years later Nissen and his college coach, Larry Griswold (University of Iowa), would work together to make a more flexible contraption. In 1937, Nissen and two friends formed a traveling acrobatics act called the Three Leonardos and began performing throughout the Midwest, Texas and Mexico. He changed the name of the device to the Trampoline from the Spanish word for diving board: el trampolin.

George and the Kangeroo

Many people don’t realize that the trampoline was so young. In fact it first became an Olympic event in 2000. Nissen spent his life perfecting and promoting the trampoline, at one point he even had a kangaroo bounce next to him on the trampoline. In fact in 1977 he scaled one of the flat top pyramids of Egypt, set up a trampoline and executed a few flips over 200 feet in the air.  Nissen believed so firmly that everyone could benefit from bouncing and often gave trampolines away to people he met on his travels. He even convinced the US Military to use them in training pilots before WWII. Now in fact there is research that shows that bouncing can be rehabilitative for injuries, can be used therapeutically for children with autism and is a great benefit to children developing locomotor skills earlier and more efficiently. In fact all of those applications are utilized by Gymfinity and even more, our Trampolines are the Nissen Brand.

After friends telling George that his lifetime dream of seeing the trampoline as an Olympic sport was never going to come true, he proved them wrong in 2000. The Sydney Olympics was the first games to show the sport as a medal worthy event. George was there, 86 years old, and was invited to bounce on the first Olympic Trampoline. I remember watching that.

George started tumbling when he was a child at a local Y.M.C.A. and continued in school. At the University of Iowa, he was a three-time winner of the intercollegiate national gymnastics championship. So we see that even back then the benefit of trampoline training was obvious.

collegiate gymnasts probably remember Mr. Nissen as a speaker at every NCAA banquet preceeding the Gymnastics championships. Every year he would end by doing a handstand, it became a tradition and the meet couldn’t start without him.

George P. Nissen will be missed. He changed the world forever and made a dent in history. In fact the argument can be made that without George Nissen, there would be no competition gymnastics clubs and certainly no Gymfinity. I grew up playing on a trampoline and I fell in love with feeling the flight I got while bouncing. Without that feeling, that rush, I may have never gone on in gymnastics. Thanks George, and rest well in peace.

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