Everyone that knows former Oakley resident Ruben Padilla, knows he can pull off extraordinary feats on a trampoline.
But now he’s proving he can rise to compete with the world’s best.
The 18-year-old, who moved to Utah last year to pursue his Olympic dreams, is in his second year of competing at the sport’s highest level: senior elite. But he has also shown he can hold his own against much more experienced athletes, some in their mid-20s.
He finished second in the double mini competition at the World Championships in Russia in 2018 — his first world championships at the senior elite level — and recently won the double mini trampoline competition at the USA Gymnastics Championships in Iowa, in addition to finishing fourth in the synchronized trampoline competition, and seventh (second in preliminaries) in the trampoline event.
“I feel pretty good about where I am at,” said Padilla, who has also chalked up second and seventh (first in preliminaries) finishes in double mini competitions at this year’s national VIP Classic and Elite Challenge events, and fourth and second in the trampoline competitions.
Padilla’s Olympic hopes hinge on his continued development and success, and he isn’t backing down from the challenge. At only 17, he moved from his parents’ home in Oakley to Utah last August, after his coach, Sven Nielsen, secured a new job there. Padilla is currently training up to two times a day and 17 hours a week.
The schedule might seem grueling to some people, but it’s all part of his near-lifelong love affair with the sport that has grown into his passion.
He soared into the sport as a 5-year-old, using household furniture as equipment, and he hasn’t stopped jumping, twisting and winning on real equipment since.
“It’s been amazing,” said Nelia Padilla, Ruben’s mother. “I don’t even know how to explain it. He has done so much.”
He manages to land feet-first most of the time, but the times he hasn’t have added unique twists to his Olympic pursuit.
Ruben’s been known to perform his tricks in casts or while instructed to be on crutches. He’s had to battle back from a bulging disk in his back, has competed while struggling to breathe from a chest injury, and has landed upright mere minutes after suffering a large foot gash and sprained ankle.
“What drives me in the sport is the goal to go to the Olympics, and all the sacrifices my family has made for me, as well as my coach,” Ruben said.
Ruben’s ascent in the sport has been fueled by his family, who fund his endeavors, cheer him on and, until recently, shuttled him sometimes hours a day, to and from practice and competitions.
The 861-mile separation between his family in Oakley and Ruben’s new home in Utah has created a new dynamic for the Padilla clan, but their bond remains strong. Nelia and a rotating group of other family members traveled to Utah every two weeks at the outset of Ruben’s move, but poor weather curtailed their journeys, forcing everyone to adjust.
“It was tough,” he said. “But then I remembered all the sacrifices they had made for me.”
Back home in Oakley, the days of knowing Ruben’s performances and his exact path to the Olympics have been replaced by lots of surprises and Googling to make sense of a senior elite athlete’s life, Nelia said.
“I don’t understand a lot about gymnastics now,” she said. “When I go watch him, I just go and I scream when I know he did a good job and if he falls or something, it’s like ‘Oh well, we’ll try again.’”
As Ruben flies toward his dream, key decisions like when to enter college hang in the balance, but so does the reality that chasing Olympic fame is a fleeting opportunity.
For now, almost everything not connected to the sport appears to be on hold. After all, the best may be yet to come in the gym. He’s already secured a trip to the Pan Am Games in Peru in August to compete in the trampoline event. That will be followed by another trampoline competition at the World Cup in Russia in September, and a trip to Spain in October for the Trampoline and Double Mini World Cups.
And if all goes as planned, it won’t be long until he’ll be walking onto the Olympic stage.
“My goal is that: the Olympics,” he said.
To follow Padilla’s journey, visit facebook.com/rubenpadillabtf, or ruben1padilla1 on Instagram. Ruben is also seeking financial contributions for his journey, which can be arranged through messaging the Facebook page.