By Tara Cangialosi
MIDDLETOWN – The summer months for most 16-year-olds are a time to hit the beach with friends, get a tan, and enjoy a break from the school year’s hectic schedule.
But for Cody Gesuelli, a rising junior at Middletown North High School, this summer includes a trip to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, in the sport of trampoline gymnastics.
As a member of the U.S. junior national team in trampoline gymnastics, Gesuelli will travel to China with his coaches, Tatiana Kovaleva, the 1996 world champion in the sport, and recent retiree Kyle Bowen, to compete against the best 15- and 16-year-olds in the world at the junior elite level.
Kovaleva and Bowen co-own Elite Trampoline Academy in Middletown, which houses one of the largest and best programs in the country, producing talented athletes including Gesuelli and the Gluckstein brothers, Steven and Jeffrey.
The gym dates back to 1999, when Kovaleva emigrated from Russia to pursue her dream of starting her own trampoline program. Fifteen years later, her elite athletes train at the academy six days a week, sometimes with double practices, in between recreational classes.
With 11 years of training under Kovaleva and Bowen, countless victories in national and worldwide competitions, and an interminable work ethic, Gesuelli has proven himself worthy of an Olympic berth. In the eyes of his coaches, what the 16-year old has accomplished is truly noteworthy.
“He’s always been a hard worker,” Bowen said. “He’s always the first one here and last one to leave. How he got this spot is definitely a credit to his hard work.”
Gesuelli first went to Elite Trampoline Academy at age 5, and was placed on the competition team at a young age. As the seventh child in a family of eight, he followed in his older siblings’ footsteps in starting trampoline gymnastics. Though also a saxophonist and pianist, his focus and hard work on the trampoline motivated him to stick with the sport.
In the past year, Gesuelli has placed high in competitions in the United States, including a 2013 win in his age group at the national championships that earned him a spot on the U.S. junior national team.
“To make the U.S national team, you have to compete at the three national competitions throughout the year,” Gesuelli said. “They take the top three [point-earners] and they’re automatically put on the national team, and then they take the others from selection.”
Gueselli placed second in May at the Junior Pan-American Championships in Daytona, Fla. One month later he placed first at the U.S. Elite Challenge, granting him the only male spot in trampoline on the U.S. Youth Olympic Team.
Over the past year, Kovaleva and Bowen have been working with Gueselli to perfect his skills and technique. Trampoline gymnasts are scored on two elements at the junior elite level: the time of flight (how high one jumps) and execution (how clean they are in the air).
“We worked really hard to improve on time of flight, and combine that with a more significant degree of difficulty,” Kovaleva said. “We are trying to put it all together now.”
As one of the academy’s hardest workers and most dedicated athletes, Gesuelli has proven he’s up to the challenge of constant improvement. He will be too old for the U.S. Junior National Team next year but will move to the senior level where talented athletes 17 years and older will be abundant.
He is grateful for the support of his coaches and understands that their expertise is what could get him to the top.
“They’re always there for me, and really know what they’re talking about with them both being competitors in the past,” Gesuelli said.
Both Gesuelli and his coaches have high hopes for the Junior Olympics, held Aug. 16-28, especially coming off the victory at the U.S. Elite Challenge.
“This is the same age group that he competed in last year in the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria,” Bowen said. “He got third there and it will be the same kids.”
Gesuelli is feeling confident and hoping to retain third place. Trampoline gymnastics is not a college sport so his future plans include a nearby college in order to continue training at Elite Trampoline Academy.
He likes training in the familiar atmosphere he has known all his life and welcomes being a role model for the younger kids at the gym.
“I’m still so young, but I have all of these kids who look up to me,” Gesuelli said. “It’s pretty cool.”