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Tumbl Trak: Train Smart





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As of April 3, 2020 we are still open and operating with limited staff. Click here for more information.
As of April 3, 2020 we are still open and operating with limited staff. Click here for more information.

Tumbl Talk

Before there was Tumbl Trak

Posted on 2/21/2020
Many have heard the story of how the company Tumbl Trak was founded in 1988, (just about the same time the movie Top Gun was released) when Doug Davis bounded into his adventures in manufacturing revolutionary gymnastics equipment.  But, lesser well known are the tales of the days and years prior and his partnership with Diana Hughes that elevated the dream.

Recently, I sat down with Doug and Diana over cherry pancakes where we fell on the topic of how they met, and the years leading up to Tumbl Trak.  I found it interesting to hear not only about their young love but entwined in the tale are moments in gymnastics history that led us to where we are today.

In 1968, Doug was a student-athlete working with Fred Rothlisberger in the gymnastics program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  Doug would spend evenings supervising open gym sessions recalling, “I took the Thursday to Sunday shifts because I wasn’t much of a party-goer”.  During that time, Diana Hughes had finished her Master’s degree and landed a teaching job at UW-W. During her free moments, she enjoyed being in the gym.

“Gymnastics wasn’t a popular sport in those days, but I had always been intrigued by circus skills, and I loved doing the bars.”  At 22 years old, her goals that year was to learn a back hip circle. Diana has earned her masters in speech pathology and communication disorders - Doug was an art major so had it not been for the commonality of gymnastics, it would be unlikely their paths would cross.

Doug spent time in the gym helping Diana with improving skills.  While coaching, Doug was keenly aware that teaching gymnastics was a challenge with makeshift equipment of the time.  The floor mat they used was a ½” thick, dense mat and coaches relied heavily on spotting athletes through every skill which led Doug to think there must be a better way.

Lucky for us all, Doug spent summers teaching at Porter Gymnastics Camp in WI where he met his two long time mentors - Leonard Isaacs, then owner of the American Academy of Gymnastics and  gym owner Bob Bradley who schooled Doug on the art of good business (and according to Diana, nudged Diana and Doug together). It was at these summer camps that Doug learned from Leonard about teaching using progressions and setting up stations where athletes could train components of each skill step by step without relying on heavy spotting. 

In order to do this, the coaches needed to be super creative.  Porter camp had one of the first pits. Doug remembers tying two vault springboards together with a mat on top to help an athlete get enough air time to do a triple full.  He remembers attaching 8” vault springs to a piece of 4’ x 4’ plywood to make a take-off platform. The following year they lined up these spring-loaded plywood platforms to make a tumbling strip.

Doug credits Leonard, Bob, and these summers as being radically impactful.  The ideas that spawned at Porter camp evolved to be some of the most revolutionary pieces of training equipment in the sport.

In 1976, Doug moved to Louisiana and spent time coaching with Vannie Edwards and Jeanelle Bertling (now, Jeanelle Memmel) and Kathy Johnson while Diana was at the University of Washington completing her doctorate degree.   They traveled across the country often to visit each other, but when Diana graduated UW, the couple settled in Michigan and married in 1982.  

Gymnastics remained a source of fitness for Diana who tested the first Air Trak’s and Tumbl Trak’s in the late 1980’s at Central Michigan University.  As she remembers, the first skill she tried on the Air Trak - a new, air-inflated mat was a round-off, back handspring, back tuck. (At 60 years of age, Diana was still doing giants on bars and at 65, she was still doing kips).

Diana’s first tumbling pass launched a long line of equipment geared toward making gymnastics easier on the body for both the coach and athlete!  Where would we be without the Tumbl Trak, the Air Trak, Air Floor, T-Trainer, Pit Pillow, Laser Beam…..