Deana Parris had a decision to make.
A year after she joined the trampoline team at the Fairland Sports and Aquatics Center in Laurel, her parents declared that she and her brother had to pare down their many extracurricular activities to two each.
Choir would make the cut, Parris decided, leaving one spot open for sports. After thinking it over, she eventually chose to continue with trampoline even though she had been playing soccer longer.
"My dad asked me why," Parris said. "And I was like, 'I just love to be in the air.'"
Seven years later, the 18-year-old Maryland freshman traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships in November as a member of the U.S. national team. It was the first time competing in the senior world championships for Parris, whose ultimate goal is a trip to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Her rise through the trampoline ranks over the past few years has been notable not just for her competitive success, but also for the challenges that Parris and her family have faced along the way. Her mother, Diane, who has long suffered from lupus, had a stroke during Parris' junior year at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville and was diagnosed with colon cancer the following year.
But even as she coped with the added responsibilities necessitated by her mother's illnesses, Parris won a silver medal in synchronized trampoline at the 2012 National Championships in California and took first place in the individual event at the 2013 Stars and Stripes Cup in Florida.
"The thing about Deana is there's just no quit in her," said Susan Jacobson, program director for trampoline and tumbling with USA Gymnastics. "When we're having a camp or when there's a competition and she's faced with adversity, there's just no quit. When everybody else is tired, she takes another turn."
Konstantin Gulisashvili, who founded the trampoline and tumbling program at Fairland, said that from the beginning it has been Parris' work ethic that has set her apart from her peers.
"She was always above average, but I wouldn't say I could see right away that she was going to be great," Gulisashvili said. "She had talent, but she didn't look like she was super-talented. She's just a hard worker. After a year or two she started moving up really fast because she was working while everybody else was talking."
The work Parris puts in now has to be scheduled around her life as a freshman psychology major at Maryland. She missed four weeks of the fall semester for training and the world championships, and in the course of a typical week she spends three mornings and five afternoons at Fairland for a total of more than 21 hours of practice.
Even though she deals with demands on her energy and attention that few college freshmen face, Parris said she is thoroughly enjoying her time in College Park.
"I love it there," she said. "Both my parents went there, so I've been on the campus all my life going back and forth, seeing their friends and stuff. So I was pretty comfortable before I got there, and then going there, I'm just having a blast."
Parris credits her mother and father for instilling in her the work ethic and determination that have aided her success in juggling the responsibilities of school and athletics.
"That's the way my parents taught me," she said. "I've always been taught that if you start something, you finish it. You don't slack off just because you want to."
Parris' drive to improve has her practicing twists, flips and landings year-round at Fairland. Each jump lasts less than two seconds, with Parris' head reaching as high as 18 feet above the surface of the trampoline at the apex of her bounce.
A lot can happen in those two seconds. An athlete as skilled as Parris can complete a half-turn, a triple front-flip and another half turn before her feet touch the trampoline again, frequently at a speed too rapid to be fully appreciated at first glance by a spectator unfamiliar with the sport.
A full competitive trampoline routine comprises 10 such moves in succession, with the entire performance lasting less than 20 seconds. The percussive sound of the trampoline springs recoiling after every bounce provides a rhythmic soundtrack to the spectacle of Parris repeatedly twisting and tumbling in midair, her favorite place to be.
"Even if I'm having a bad day, most of the time if I'm up there it's the best," Parris said. "The top of my bounce, that's my favorite part, right before I start coming down."
Winter is the offseason for Parris, with no competitions scheduled between November's world championships and the annual Fairland Classic at Cole Field House in College Park in March. Then there are national events in May and June, leading up to the National Championships in Louisville, Ky., in July.
The 2014 World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships will be held in Daytona Beach, Fla., in November. A return trip to the world championships would be an important step for Parris, who finished 29th in the individual event and 16th in synchronized trampoline in Bulgaria. But her ultimate target remains the Olympics, where trampoline has been an official sport since the 2000 Games in Sydney.
"That's been the goal since I was about 10 years old," Parris said. "I see it. I see myself making it there, very realistically."
Her confidence notwithstanding, earning a spot in Brazil will be a challenge. Although each country's trampoline team may qualify as many as two women for the Olympics, the U.S. team has not yet qualified more than one in any given year. Savannah Vinsant, who finished sixth in the 2012 London Games, as well as former Olympic alternate Dakota Earnest and many others will be competing with Parris to represent the United States in 2016.
As she works towards her goal, Parris will take with her the wisdom she has gained recently through both her athletic success and her personal challenges.
"Last year was not easy in any sense of the word," Parris said. "But I appreciate it for what it was and for the strength I learned being able to work through all that.
"I don't sweat the small things as much. I learned there's not enough time."
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