On trampoline parks, middle age, and the realization that everything can send you to the emergency room

OPINION: A recent trip to a trampoline park for my son’s birthday and one bad landing made me realize that one false move and it’s an ER trip. 

(Photo by ROTEM/Adobe Stock Image)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

As of this writing, I know three different dads in various stages of an Achilles tendon tear. One is on the downhill side of rehab; he’s back to driving and walking without assistance and living life “normally.” Another dad I know is still in a boot and working towards getting back to independent walking. The last dad I know just tore his Achilles and just had surgery as he begins the months-long trek through rehab. Each of the dads who popped their Achilles did so while playing basketball. I rarely play basketball at this point, but you know what my kids love to do? They love to go to trampoline parks. 

Recently, one of my sons turned 8, and he wanted to go to a trampoline park. We went in the middle of the day when nobody was there, and it really looked like my favorite version of any usually packed place: empty. I LOVE going to places that are normally full of loud, obnoxious children when they’re empty; it feels like I own the place. We got to jump on everything solo; it really felt like I’d rented out the whole place just for him. What that ALSO meant was that I had to be part of all of his activities. We walked in and saw the basketball goals with foam wrapped around the rims, and I thought about all of the high-flying dunks and shenanigans and ballyhoo that was about to go down. 

We changed into our special-grip socks and went straight to the basketball hoop. My son was flying all over the place — he’s not quite tall enough to do much dunking — and I took a ball and immediately tried to bound off one of the trampolines and dunk the ball. It was magnificent, I tell you. As I rose into the air I felt like Michael Jordan. I was unstoppable. I was unflappable. I was living the version of my life that made it to the NBA. 

I dunked, which is not something I’ve been able to say much in my life. 

But then I had the scare of my life on the very short way down; I HOPE MY ANKLES STAY IN TACT. In the back of my head, all I could think about was all of the homies I know who are rehabbing injuries related to active physical activity. And I especially thought about my Achilles as I landed, slipped and went feet-over-head and landed on my back and then bounced up and down uncomfortably. My son didn’t laugh but he really should have. Thankfully, he loves me and was more concerned about me being alive than the inherent humor that had to exist. I stood up and decided to take it easy from then on out …


Until we walked over to the freestyle trampolines. I jumped for about two minutes, fell, and took too long to get up before I realized that my ministry had changed. Usually, we go to trampoline parks, and my kids play with other kids so I just observe their joy. But here I was, completely winded, worried about my ability to walk out of there in one piece, trying to spark joy with my son when I realized that my athletic time, even minimally, was up. Plus, I’m REALLY, REALLY not trying to have to tell people that I ended up in the emergency room because I took a bad fall off a trampoline into a foam pit and had to be lifted out of it with some sort of strapped lift. That just cannot be my life.

I wanted to jump and bound like gazelles, but I could not shake the idea of tearing something or popping something or not being able to get back up if I went down too hard. I’ll be 45 soon, and I knew this time was coming, but I do think that seeing my friends going through real medical emergencies has made me more cautious and sped up my concerns. Their injuries live rent-free in my head, and now I’m afraid to try to dunk on a foam rim with a trampoline underneath my feet. Even if I did hit that mat really hard once and questioned every decision I’d ever made in life, I still thought I might be out there at 50 trying to beat my kids in foot races. I have no idea what I was thinking or why — I don’t know a single dad at 50 even TRYING to race their kids. A few years back, one of my homies in his mid-30s raced my then 6-year-old son in a race and I swear my friend pulled a hamstring. While I watched. 

I knew then that the time was coming, but I figured if I picked my spots, I’d be fine. The trampoline park has crystallized the fact, for me, that anything can send you to the emergency room, and at this stage in life, if I have concerns about that possibility, those concerns are valid. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to take an Epsom salt bath because even jumping around and trying to dunk for 30 minutes has my body feeling like I pushed a boulder up a hill.

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.