Get Delaney Walsh on a trampoline and she flies.
The Champaign teen jumps high above the trampoline, then rotates, with her legs tucked, 1 1/2 times. She kicks her legs out, gets another bounce on the trampoline, then flips twice with her legs straight — a half out tuck and double straight combination.
It’s the latest tumbling skill she’s been working to perfect.
“I really like to fly. I’ll have dreams that I fly,” said Delaney, who turns 17 on Friday. “I really love jumping and flying through the air. It’s really fun, and it feels kind of cool. It’s like gravity can’t hold you down.”
The girl who flies through the air at Top Star Gym, north of Champaign, has built strength through tumbling. It’s both a passion and an outlet for her energy.
And when Delaney was a toddler, it was also therapy.
Delaney was born in China with club feet. Her mother Patti guesses that Delaney was born to a poor, rural family that couldn’t afford medical treatment. Patti and her late husband, Pat, adopted Delaney from an orphanage in China when she was 14 months old.
The medical forms they received mentioned bowed legs, greatly understating the seriousness of Delaney’s condition. When she first saw Delaney, Patti Walsh said, her daughter’s feet turned in sideways, so her legs and feet formed an “L” shape. She would have to stand on the outside edges of her feet — except she couldn’t balance on them.
“I remember thinking, ‘We’ll go home and take care of it,’” Patti said, adding she didn’t realize the seriousness or potential long-term effects of the condition.
A friend referred the family to Shriners Hospital in St. Louis. Delaney should have had treatment for her feet shortly after birth. She had surgery at the Shriners Hospital at 18 months of age. Doctors weren’t sure they could correct the problems.
“They told us she may never walk,” Patti said.
The surgery was successful, and Delaney began doing physical therapy, which included jumping on a trampoline.
“I kind of knew from the beginning that she was going to be someone who needed to be very active,” Patti said. “She had all this energy, and she needed an outlet.”
Patti regularly drove past Irish’s Gymnastics, then located in Rantoul. She asked about enrolling Delaney in tumbling and was assured her feet presented no obstacle. Delaney began tumbling at age 3 and fell in love with it.
She’s loved making friends with other girls in tumbling and growing up and improving alongside them. She loves learning new skills, and she said tumbling has strengthened more than just her feet.
“I think it definitely has strengthened my ankles and my whole body. It definitely has helped me physically, but also mentally too,” she said, noting tumbling has taught her discipline and also helped her be more independent.
She’s been at Top Star Gym for a few years now, and she has enjoyed working with female coaches and teaching younger children.
She competes in two of the three competitive tumbling events: trampoline and double-mini trampoline. Delaney practices tumbling on the floor for strength, but she doesn’t compete in that event as her feet hurt if she does a lot of it.
She made the U.S. Trampoline & Tumbling Association national team two years ago (it’s a two-year commitment), and she’s working now on qualifying for the team again.
Missy Weder, owner of Top Star Gym and Delaney’s coach, said Delaney had a lot of impressive skills when she first started tumbling at Top Star, but her form didn’t look good because of her feet.
“I think everybody saw her with a handicap and didn’t do anything to make her fix it. Her feet turn in, so this is why she looks this way,” Weder said. “We told her to get her legs straight and her feet together and point her toes, and she did. To us, she was just an athlete who needed to have good form, and she really rose to the occasion and fixed her form and became a superstar.”
Weder said Delaney is an “amazingly strong” athlete, but it took a little while for her to improve her form.
“I don’t know that she believed us that she could get her legs together and make it look nice and clean,” Weder said. “We made her realize she could do it as good as everybody else.”
Delaney, who is a junior at Judah Christian School and a cheerleader there, wants to enjoy her last two seasons of competitive tumbling before going to college. Her goals are learning skills of increasing difficulty and making them look good. She hopes to be involved in tumbling in the future, maybe through coaching.
Photos: Top: Delaney Walsh of Champaign takes flight at the Top Star Gym north of Champaign last week. Delaney said she and her mother put the inspirational words on the wall as a birthday gift for the teen's trainer. Photos by Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette