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Pan Am profile: Toronto trampolinist perseveres for family and sport

Last Updated Jul 24, 2015 at 10:18 pm EST

Canada's Rosannagh MacLennan, left, and Karen Cockburn celebrate their gold and bronze medals respectively during trampoline finals at the Pan Am Games in Toronto on July 19, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Cockburn shattered her ankle only eight months before competing at home for the Pan Am Games.

The four-time Olympian went on to grab a bronze medal for Canada in the women's final trampoline.

Rosie MacLennan aspired to be just like Karen Cockburn since she was eight-years-old.

Karen Cockburn planted her feet on the trampoline and started to bounce, just like she has done hundreds of times before – more than she can count.

Her knees bent when she made contact with the trampoline just before shooting into the air. Both arms whipped around her body in a circle as she floated for a millisecond, a couple metres above the ground. As she did this at the Pan Am Games in Toronto on July 19, she knew her one-year-old daughter, Emilie, was watching her in the stands.

“She likes watching me jump even though she doesn’t understand everything,” said Cockburn.

She’d only seen Emilie a few times that week prior to competing because she was staying in the Pan Am Games athlete village. Cockburn spent the mornings sleeping in until 9 a.m. in the village, a welcoming change and something she hasn’t done in years.

The thirty-four-year old veteran gymnast couldn’t look anywhere in the stadium without knowing someone, but she was competing for Emilie.

Emilie’s light blonde hair was pulled back off her face with a fuchsia coloured bow as she sat with her father, also a Canadian Olympic trampoline gymnast Mathieu Turgeon, and she looked out to her mother competing in the women’s trampoline final.

On either side of Cockburn’s left ankle are two scars running up past her socks. They are a few millimeters thick and about two inches in length. She’s had them since she shattered her ankle eight months ago and they are a reminder of the painful process since the injury.

Having the Pan Am Games at home in Toronto was a motivating factor for the Toronto-born Olympian to get back from not only an injury but also pregnancy.

“Competing at home was always in the back of my head and helped push me through those days when I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said. Cockburn was in a cast until February and only had three to four months in training before the Games.

She was going to do everything in her power to compete at home and as she twirls in the air during the competition, you would never know that a metal plate and eight screws are holding everything together after fracturing her left ankle .

“It helped me as much as it has hurt me in my career,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time she had to overcome injury. The scar on her knee is also a reminder of her long career. She has had two knee surgeries and persevered through both of them while teaching her a lot about herself.

Cockburn is jumping to teach her daughter that “anything is possible,” and wants her to look back and be able to say she got the chance to see her mother compete.

Cockburn, the three-time Olympic medalists and most decorated trampolinist in Olympic history, is no stranger to competing at the Pan Am Games. In 2007, she took the title at the Rio de Janeiro Pan Am Games and in 2011 was leading the competition after the qualifying round but got food poisoning so she was not able to compete in the final. “Definitely wanted some redemption here,” she said. And she got it by capturing the bronze medal and raising the Canadian flag on the podium.

“I came away with the bronze medal and got to share the podium with one of my closest friends and teammates, which was definitely an awesome moment for us,” said Cockburn.

Emilie isn’t the only one who looks up to Cockburn, but also Rosie MacLennan, 2012 Olympic gold medalists and Pan Am Games gold medalist, has been looking up to her since she was eight-years-old.

“Ever since I was eight-years-old and starting out in trampoline she was the one I always watched,” said MacLennan. “She changed my childhood dream of being an Olympian into a goal.

MacLennan watched how hard Cockburn fought to get to where she is and that she has guided her entire athletic career not only as a teammate, but a friend.

For MacLennan, Cockburn set an example for everyone, not just herself, to aspire to be like.

Cockburn said that she has learned just as much from MacLennan as she learned from her and that they are “lucky to have each other for support.”

Support has also been needed for Cockburn and Turgeon, but having a flexible schedule helps. Emilie’s grandparents are always there to offer a hand to the family who now lives Stouffville, just northeast of Toronto. They moved to the small town in 2007 for the “nice little area” with lots of parks.

Emilie will be turning two-years-old in September and sometimes she gets to come to practice with her mother. She’s even been on the trampoline a couple times.

Emilie’s middle name is special for both Cockburn and Turgeon. She was named after the Sydney Olympics, where the couple started dating and where they won their Olympic bronze medals together in 2000.

The athletically gifted parents want their daughter to choose her own path and not just with athletics but also academics and music. “We are never going to push her, she has two Olympians as parents, we aren’t going to ever put pressure on her to be an Olympian.” They will place Emilie into a variety of sports, just like Cockburn’s parents did with her, and give her the choice.


But to them it is more about being healthy and fit, just living a healthy lifestyle.

“She’s such a happy child,” said Cockburn. “Me and my husband got her doing lots of crazy stuff already.”

She is already quite the dare-devil jumping off the diving board at the pool and climbing everything. Cockburn said she has been exposed to “crazy things.”

Turgeon will balance her up in the air as she is so “tiny,” and she will often stand on his shoulders, sometimes even doing flips.

“What, not every baby does this?” laughs Cockburn.