Nicolas Fontaine was already impressed after watching a 10-year-old Travis Gerrits win a big-air competition in Mount Orford, Que. When he found out how far the Acton youngster and his brother Tyler had traveled for the competition, he knew he had something special. "Wow, they're going out of their way to compete," Fontaine thought. The Canadian aerials development team coach approached Gerrits to see if he would be interested in trying a new sport. "I had seen it on TV and dreamed of it," said the now 15-yearold Gerrits. "There just were no opportunities to do it." Those opportunities still are very limited but at least Gerrits no longer has to leave the country. His first training sessions were held in Lake Placid, N.Y. because it was the closest water ramp for summer training. The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association has since built a facility in Le Relais, Que., which opened in 2004. Gerrits has spent his last three summers in Quebec training. It's a sacrifice the Milton District High School 10th grader is willing to make to try to land a spot on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. While there may be older and more experienced aerialists ahead of him, Gerrits is not about to let his age hold him back. Recently in Ste. Adele, Que., Gerrits turned in a perfect score on one of his jumps to earn his best ever-finish-- fifth-- on the Noram circuit, a North American developmental series. "You don't want to penalize him because of his age but we want him to go slow-- make sure he's learning the basics-- but he wants to follow the others," said Fontaine, a four-time World Cup aerials champion. "When
he got the perfect score, I said, `I think he's ready'." Gerrits, despite being two years younger than any other member of the development team, has already compiled an impressive resumé just five years after taking up the sport. He won the junior nationals last year, improving on his second-place finish from the previous year. This year on the Noram circuit, he has improved with each event, from 11th to ninth to fifth. "Sometimes we forget he's so young because he's so good," Fontaine said. "He's really on the young side but his progression has been the same as the others." Having skied since he was six, Gerrits also had a strong background in gymnastics, a sport from which many aerialist competitors have been recruited. He competed at the provincial level on trampoline and though he no longer competes, he still has a trampoline at home and uses it as a training tool. "Skiing alone is not enough to be in the program," Fontaine said. "With having trampoline (experience), he had a really good base. He still needs to improve but anything we need to fix, we can fix on the trampoline. Having that base has helped him a lot." In addition to spending his summers in Quebec, the local teen also misses almost half his classes during the school year for competition and training. He sometimes misses as much as six weeks at a time but said his teachers have been very supportive. "It's tough, there's a lot of work to do. Teachers send me with piles of work and there's a lot to catch up on when I get back. I'm the youngest on the development team. The rest of them are 18, 19, 20, some as old as 23 so they're not doing school work." "My teachers have been great to help me out but they still expect a lot," he said. Gerrits was also identified as one of the up-and-coming athletes to receive funding from the Quest for Gold lottery. The provincially-run lottery has provided him with $4,000 in funding to help offset travel and equipment costs. While Gerrits continues to close in on the podium on the Noram circuit, his long-term goal is the 2010 Olympics. "I would be the youngest to ever go (for aerials) if I make it. It's going to be in Vancouver so it's going to be a big event. But if I don't make it, I'm young enough so there's always 2014 and 2018."
Travis Gerrits (above and inset) catches some air during competition at Mount Gabriel, Quebec.