OAKLEY, Calif. (KRON) — He’s barely out of high school and only 18 years old, but San Francisco East Bay native Ruben Padilla is already on the road to his second Olympic Games on Team USA.
He loves the sport that lets him fly without wings: trampolining. Leaping 30 feet into the air, Padilla twists and flips with extreme precision.
Team USA Gymnastics is slated to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo for trampolining and tumbling, and Padilla is one of the team’s rapidly rising athletes.
He first walked into a gymnastics training center at age 6. His mother brought him there after she had to throw away the trampoline in their Oakley home’s backyard. Nelia Padilla said she could not bare watching her son catapulting himself from every high surface he could find. She dismantled the backyard trampoline, but her son didn’t stop creating other ways to to find more air time.
“I was a crazy child,” Ruben Padilla admitted. “I was always all over the place. I’d always use the couch as a pommel horse.”
Nelia Padilla thought about wrapping her son in bubble wrap, but instead decided to let him leap, tumble, and flip to his heart’s content under the eye of gymnastics coaches at Four Stars Gymnastics Academy in Antioch.
After honing his routine with increasingly difficult twists and flips, he began traveling to world championships and raking in more medals than he could count.
The proudest moment of his career happened earlier this month, when he went up against Russian Mikhail Zalomin at the World Championships, an Olympic-qualifying event, inside the same Tokyo arena where the 2020 Olympic Games will be held.
“This athlete that I had looked up to for so long, he’s an eight-time world champion now, I ended up tying with him in our first competition. And then tying him again in our next competition. In the finals, he beat me by one point. That made me realize everything was all worth it … the sacrifices my family and me have all made,” Ruben Padilla said.
He returned home with three silver medals and qualified for a spot in the 2021 World Games.
Russia and China will be the toughest teams to beat this summer, he said. Like ice skating, judging in the sport is based on multiple subjective factors.
“One is your execution, so, how pretty, how clean, your routine is. Another one is your height. The higher you jump, the higher your score is going to be. Difficulty, how hard the routine is. And horizontal displacement,” Ruben Padilla said.
What motivates this young athlete to keep pushing the limits of his body’s ability? Adrenaline.
“I’ve always liked the feeling of the adrenaline. I use that adrenaline to push me to do harder things,” he said.
- 2019 World double mini, double mini team and team all-around silver medalist
- 2019 Pan American Games trampoline bronze medalist
- 2019 U.S. double mini champion
- 2018 World double mini silver medalist
- 2018 U.S. double mini silver medalist and synchro bronze medalist