Among the many remarkable people who call Fallbrook home is the 1964 trampoline world champion, George Hery, who still does backflips on the trampoline at Fallbrook Gymnastics Club.
Hery marks his 80th birthday Sept. 2 this year but the staff and students at the gym held a celebration for him a week early.
Hery was born and raised on a farm near Dayton, Ohio. After high school, he worked at an engineering school for five years, going to the local YMCA twice a week perfecting his trampoline skills. At the age of 23, he earned a scholarship to the University of Iowa to compete in gymnastics and trampoline.
Hery explained that at that time, there were 10 events in competition. Besides the six Olympic events (floor exercise, pommel horse, parallel bars, still rings, vault, and the horizontal bar), there were also tumbling (down an 85-foot-long mat), trampoline, the rope climb and the flying rings.
In his senior year, 1964, he won the NCAA title in vaulting and Big 10 crowns on floor and vault. He also won the first World Professional Trampoline Championship that same year, becoming the first trampoline athlete to successfully complete a triple backflip in competition.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in general science, Hery said he was hired by George Nissen, the inventor of the modern trampoline, to sell equipment for both trampoline and gymnastics in the New England region. As part of his job, Hery gave clinics and demonstrations on the equipment for teachers at schools and gyms.
He was later transferred to the Midwest (Chicago) and then to the West Coast. Hery ended up back on the East Coast and, for five years in the 70’s, he and a partner ran a gym in an old church in Long Branch, New Jersey, three blocks from the ocean, he said. They called it the Stained Glass Gym after its three 30-foot tall windows, Hery added.
From New Jersey, he moved to Lake Tahoe and started another gymnastics school that still exists. It was called the Gad Gym, for George and Darrell (his partner), or good and dangerous, and sometimes geeks and dorks, Hery joked. He said a former student took over the gym about five years later when he “retired”.
Hery came to Southern California looking for a quiet, little community and remembered Fallbrook from when he had sold Dean and Debbie Capelotti some equipment at their Fallbrook Gymnastics Club. He visited them and started coaching their students. Now, five years later, he is a fixture at the gym, specializing in men’s artistic gymnastics and trampoline.
According to Debbie Capelotti, Hery is “so good with the kids, so popular…and he’s friends with everybody” including the coaches of other clubs who he also helps. An inspiring teacher, he has friends and former students all over the United States as well as in Europe.
An innovator in his sport, Hery not only invented the double mini-trampoline and the coil springboard for the vault, he also set a record doing 120 backflips in a row. His stories include an appearance on “Candid Camera” in 1967 and doing a flip on a mini-trampoline on top of a pyramid in Egypt in 1970.
He has had great experiences, he said, “but the greatest one of all is teaching children. Even if they’re only 25 percent of the population, they’re 100 percent of our future.” His goal is to “teach them to have fun, be disciplined, learn.”
In 2004, Hery was inducted into the Acrobatic Society Hall of Legends and, in 2016, he was given a Lifetime Achievement award by USA Gymnastics at the Olympic Trials in San Jose.
On Aug. 26, students and friends gathered at the gym to help Hery celebrate the “41st anniversary of his 39th birthday”, and to watch him do a backflip on the trampoline.