When Dylan Schmidt was a boy, he had a dream – to be the first athlete to represent Aotearoa in trampolining at the Olympic Games. And in 2016, aged just 19, that fantasy came true, so now Dylan's dream has been upgraded.
On Saturday, July 31, the 24-year-old became the first New Zealander to win an Olympic medal in trampolining, no mean feat for a gymnastic journey that began when he was an active wee boy in kindergarten in Te Anau.
Smiling, his mum Jen remembers, "Dylan's teacher told me how all the other kids tried to do what he was doing in the playground, but they just couldn't keep up. She reckoned he'd be an Olympian one day. When he made Rio in 2016, we had a bit of a laugh over Facebook!"
Dylan's energy was channelled into trampolining when a coach came to their small Southland town in 2001, with his big brother Callum and sister Rachel also signing up. When the coach left Te Anau, Jen travelled to Christchurch to learn how to coach herself.
"It was difficult, but we did what we could to keep the club going," she tells.
Then came another spanner in the works. Dylan's dad Andy was offered a job in Waihi and the family found themselves in a town with no trampoline club. But with all three kids showing real promise in the sport, Jen dedicated herself to ferrying them to and from Auckland to train, sometimes four times a week.
Dylan remembers, "It was a two-hour drive and training was from 7 to 9pm, so Mum would pick us up from rugby, netball or soccer, then we'd eat dinner in the backseat and sleep on pillows on the
Jen adds, "I look back now and don't know how I did it. When we got home each night, I'd peel myself out of the car, but they loved it." And Jen's dedication eventually paid off, with all three Schmidt kids competing at international level and Dylan winning his first world champs in Russia at 12.
"Winning was cool, but when I got home, people didn't really care," he recalls. "I wasn't treated any differently at school. I still played rugby with my mates." However, his win was a turning point. Dylan tells, "That's when I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics."
And after a lot of hard work, at 19, Dylan was selected for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. He tells, "Qualifying was a huge weight off my shoulders as it was such a tough time. Things weren't going my way, with injuries and setbacks, but I ensured I was fit and healthy in time to compete. Looking back, sometimes it feels like qualifying was more special than actually being there, even though I had an amazing time."
Returning home, misfortune continued to dog Dylan and, in 2018, he suffered a serious knee injury. "It was a really long recovery process, but one thing that got me through was the surgeon telling me, 'You're not a trampolinist any more – you're a professional rehabber.'
"That flicked a switch for me. Yes, there were two weeks of wallowing, but then I got my mind right and took rehab seriously."
Dylan was jumping again within nine months and competing in under a year.
"Physically and mentally, I'm stronger now than I've ever been. It's been such a steep learning process and little issues might still pop up, but I wouldn't change a thing."
Finally ready to compete at top level again, Dylan was "gutted" when the pandemic postponed the Games. "But I've been working with a life advisor and I've used this time to move on with my life. I got a job, moved out of home and finished my degree."
Dylan and his partner Melissa, a trampoline coach, even adopted a sheepdog called Taco. He says, "When you're training, it can be hard to find time to do those sorts of things, so it feels like I've made progress and I'm in a good space for Tokyo. I know I'll enjoy it because I've haven't competed overseas since 2019. I want to push myself against other athletes and perform under pressure."
Unfortunately, Dylan's parents have had to cancel their plans to cheer him on at the Games. But Jen says, "I think he'll do well. He's in a happy space, so he can just go to Tokyo and enjoy it."
Dylan insists, "I'm just there to have fun and perform. If it goes my way, great. If not, at least I'll have enjoyed getting there."
And one thing is for sure – now that Dylan is bringing home a medal, Jen will be having another good laugh over Facebook with his former kindy teacher!
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