Ava Orr (left) and Maya Unlauf, both 8 and from Glen Ellyn, jump on the trampolines at Xtreme Trampolines in Carol Stream, Ill., on May 17. McClatchy-Tribune News Service
By Robert McCoppin
McClatcy-Tribune News Service
CHICAGO — When Jennifer Quinn springs into the air at Xtreme Trampolines, the 35-year-old feels like a kid again.
“It’s a really fun place,” she says of the Carol Stream, Ill., warehouse, where the public can jump around on trampolines stitched together like a giant checkerboard. But the Chicago resident also remembers how she once “got crazy and nearly killed myself” by landing on her head. “I need to remember how old I am next time.”
All the rage on the West Coast, trampoline parks are beginning to pop up elsewhere. In the Chicago area, new parks are proposed in Buffalo Grove, Naperville and Niles, Ill. Their owners say they offer a wholesome activity for all ages, adding that customers are briefed on safety and that padding minimizes the chance of injury.
But critics aren’t convinced. Since the Carol Stream park opened in November, emergency call records show that 16 ambulances have been dispatched for trauma ranging from broken ankles and dislocated shoulders to a head injury.
In one instance, a 13-year-old girl fell on her neck and reported tingling in her arms and difficulty breathing.
The potential for devastating injuries concerns Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He sees the parks as a progression from the use of backyard trampolines, which nearly tripled the number of trampoline injuries in the 1990s, with 11 deaths.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, he notes, recommends against the use of trampolines other than in a supervised setting, such as in a gymnastics facility. It also warns against using trampolines as toys in the backyard and allowing children younger than 6 to participate.
The controversy stirs the debate over where to draw the line between reasonable safety guidelines and freedom of choice.
Operators say no activity is risk-free. All customers, and guardians for those younger than 18, sign a waiver releasing Xtreme from liability if they are injured or killed.
Trampoline parks are safer than backyard trampolines, Xtreme owner Eric Beck said, because each trampoline is bordered by other trampolines or by a floor on the same level. He estimates his facility’s injury rate at two out of 1,000 customers.
“It’s over 99 percent safe, not 100 percent safe,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable with the risk, don’t do it.”
After paying $11 for the first hour, Xtreme participants, whose average age is 16, are required to watch a 3-minute video going over the rules. There are no shoes, no running or rough-housing. There’s also a limit of one person per trampoline, with no double-bouncing, in which one person lands to bounce another higher in the air.
Still, injuries happen.
Unlike amusement parks, trampoline parks are not regulated in Illinois by any state or federal agency. That’s because the parks do not involve a moving apparatus, according to the Illinois Department of Labor.
Instead, review of proposed trampoline parks falls to municipalities, but they don’t typically get involved in operational safety issues.