One hour. That’s all you need to change a child’s life.

For over fifty years, this has been the foundation of Val Johnson’s philosophy for coaching athletes.

“Because you don’t know when the kids come to the classes where they’ve come from,” she explained. “You don’t know what their life is. But you have a whole hour to make them feel good about themselves and to make a difference. That sums up my philosophy. It’s what I believe.”

And Val would know better than anyone. Her own life was changed in just one hour back in 1968 at age 14. She discovered gymnastics at the New Westminster community center that day and it spawned a lifelong devotion to trampoline. She and the thousands of athletes she’s coached over her career are literally living proof that this philosophy works wonders.

Soon after discovering gymnastics, at age 14 Val began teaching classes herself as a volunteer and, by 16, the City of New Westminster hired her as an instructor. And she never left, as her job evolved to coordinating the entire New West gymnastics and trampoline program. 2020 marks her 51st year working there—the only gymnastics and trampoline programmer ever employed by the City of New Westminster.

Before becoming a full-time coach, Val was one of Canada’s first and best trampoline athletes. A founder of Ariel Trampoline Club, the first trampoline Club in Canada, Val competed from 1969 to 1974 becoming Canada’s first-ever national champion in the sport in 1971 and adding two more titles the following years. Twice she competed for Canada at the world trampoline championships in 1972 and 1974 before retiring from competition.

Val founded the Shasta Trampoline Club in 1975, now the oldest and among the most successful competitive trampoline clubs in Canada. Dozens of her athletes have gone on to wear the Maple Leaf over the past five decades. In 1982, Shasta athlete Christine Tough won Canada’s first-ever world trampoline title. To date, Shasta athletes have produced at least 19 world championship and 31 national championship medals.

Great coaches are successful; extraordinary coaches make athletes want to become coaches themselves on top of winning. Val is undoubtedly the latter: so many of her athletes have gone on to become coaches and give back to the sport. They cite her as their primary influence.

“One of the big senses of achievement that I have is when the athletes come back and I see them after many years,” she said. “I hear them talk and they’re so happy and thankful they were part of the club. It’s a really, really strong club with team support and they made lifelong friends. It’s really unique. I’m very fortunate.”

Since 1996, Val has served as BC’s provincial coach at the Canadian championships. She also served as Canada’s national coach at various international events including the 1978 and 2003 World Age Groups in Australia and Germany respectively, the 2002 Indo Pacific Championships in Australia, and the 2006 Albacete Cup in Spain. From 1976 to 1982, she worked as an International Trampoline Federation judge including at several world championships in that time.

Val also remains an owner and advisor to the Vancouver Circus School, western Canada’s largest recreational circus school, based in New Westminster and run by her son Travis and founded by her late husband Aaron.

If you ever need more proof of Val’s impact, head out to the Queens Park Sportsplex one day. You’ll witness one of the most influential individuals ever in Canadian trampoline changing her athletes’ lives one hour at a time.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

To read more on the career of Val Johnson, please see the October 2020 Curator’s Corner article here: