The Soehn brothers are learning that they are stronger together than on their own.
Red Deer’s trampoline stars came up in the sport together, both achieving success on the world stage.
Then Kyle went off to the University of Calgary for school, leaving his younger brother Keegan behind in Red Deer. This year, however, Kyle has returned to the family-run Thunder Country Club and the two have found a new level in their abilities.
In the Pan American Championships in Toronto in August, the two won gold in team trampoline and fourth in the synchronized trampoline. Keegan, meanwhile, added silver in the individual trampoline and the team double mini trampoline and bronze in double mini trampoline.
The performances earned them both a spot at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015.
“Coming back home to train with Keegan again, we’ve gotten exponentially better again, just having that extra drive in the gym,” said the five-foot-eight, 150-pound Kyle, 25.
“It’s one thing to have people all training in the same sport as you, it’s another to have someone right beside you at the same level, pushing you every day.
“It’s a fierce competition but it’s still a friendly competition. I want to see him do well and he wants to see me do well, but at the end of the day there are some bragging rights up for grabs at the competition.”
It’s little wonder that their most consistent top results have come when they are competing together in the synchronized events.
In 2015, Keegan, 22, will be trying to defend his individual title from the 2011 games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
And there will be a little extra pressure in front of a home Canadian crowd.
“It’s fantastic, normally you don’t get to (compete at home) — the crowd is always cheering for someone else. But being at this type of competition, the hometown, it should be great,” said the five-foot-seven, 146-pound Keegan.
Trampoline is often overlooked in the gymnastics world, but it has been growing by leaps and bounds, especially in Canada with the country’s success at the Olympics in the event.
For the Soehns, competing at the Olympics is the last major level to reach in their careers. Keegan came close in 2012 when he was named an alternate for the Canadian team in London and got to practice there, but did not get to compete.
Rio de Janeiro in 2016 is circled in big red ink on their calendars.
“We’re working towards this year’s world championships, but the main goal is to keep it rising to the Olympics, don’t peak too early,” said Keegan. “I’m in a much better position. Last time I was younger and I didn’t have it too much in my mind because I just moved to the higher level, so I didn’t really think I had a chance and I was named alternate, so it was like ‘Wow!’ ”
There is still a lot of time and a lot of competitions — including the World Championships in Daytona Beach from Nov. 7 to 9. But it is clear where their focus is. Their father, Ken Soehn, 54, is the national team coach and has worked with them all their lives, and he says they plan according to the Olympic quadrennial.
“Our goals are always four years,” he said. “They’re on pace, they’re slowly improving — we’d like to do really well at this worlds, but it’s next worlds that’s really important.”
The 2015 world championships will serve as an Olympic qualifier.
Ken has watched his two sons come a long way since they picked up the sport when Kyle was 11 and Keegan was eight, and he beams with pride when talking about them.
“This was always the goal, I think it’s great,” he said. “One of the things that’s unique is that we enjoy the process together. … For us it’s a family adventure, really, just keep going till they don’t want to anymore.”
Keegan and Kyle have room for improvement, and mostly it comes down to the air they are getting on their jumps. Most of the world’s elite are at 30 feet in competition, but the gym where the Soehns train tops out at about 20 feet. They still hit those top heights in competition, but it comes down to consistency.
Getting to the top of their sport has been a long grind.
Kyle can only train part time — he works as a mechanical engineer at Nova Chemicals and also helps coach with Thunder Country and going to competitions.
Keegan, meanwhile, is a full-time athlete, but his schedule is still packed with training, coaching and competing.
They are both part of the national Own the Podium program, which has been a huge help in covering costs as they compete around the world, like in the World Cup competition in Minsk, Belarus, the first weekend of September. Kyle hurt his back in training at the competition, a mild muscle pull but it kept him out of the competition, while Keegan finished 40th in the individual trampoline and 17th in the synchronized trampoline.
“At times it’s very tough,” said Kyle. “This year I noticed it a lot, there were times where I had to work very intensely at work, and normally I’ve been able to handle anything that’s been thrown at me … but that time I didn’t quite anticipate the demands on my working life and training, so I had a bit of a dip earlier in the season. But now I have a greater appreciation for how to keep that balance going.”
Ken has been involved in trampoline, either competing or coaching, for 40 years. The sport has come a long way in that time — where the world’s elite included about 10 trampolinists, now anyone in a group of about 30 can win any international event.
Kyle and Keegan are in that group.
On the world stage, China and Russia are usually the heavy favourites in the men’s competition, but Canada is never too far off.
At home, the two brothers have put Red Deer and Thunder Country on the map as one of the top clubs in the country — despite the low roof, it is a 100 per cent controlled environment to train in.
“We’ve had great success, but it’s one of those things where you get a group of people together with a great desire to get better and more people will come and follow that. It’s a great feeling,” said Kyle.
They are helping to groom the next generation, including their sister Kalena, 14, who is already showing well at junior international events. She won her first age-level national championship this year and qualified for the world age group championships from Nov. 13 to 16 at Daytona Beach.
Having two elite trampolinists in the club has been a double-edge sword. For a while, they were so far beyond everyone else’s ability it created a bit of separation in the club with the younger kids. But now the young up and comers are starting to pick up the higher level skills.
“Now they’re seeing that this is something possible that they can do,” Ken said.
At the forefront for the Soehns is Daytona Beach and the world championships, which will bring about 120 of the top trampolinists in the world to Florida. They will go through a couple of group rounds until the top 25 are selected for the semifinals, and then the top eight will move on to the finals. Last year in Sofia, Bulgaria, they both just missed out on the semifinals in the individual competitions — Keegan topped out with a silver medal in the team double mini competition.
Though they have both been competing for 14 years, it hasn’t started to get old or boring yet.
“It’s just fun,” said Keegan. “When people get up on a trampoline, you see a big smile light up their face, it’s just the best.”