ATASCADERO — Teenager Keenan Howell is putting Atascadero on the map the way few have been able and in less time than any bar none. Howell, 15, is a trampoline prodigy with a work ethic that matches his insane talent. Howell uprooted his small town, every-day life over a year ago to move into a small apartment in Rancho Santa Margarita on his own in the pursuit of something great and in one year’s time has achieved everything he set out to do. Howell is now a member of USA Gymnastics, yes, Team USA Gymnastics.
A year ago when the Atascadero News last checked in on Howell, he’d just made his move south to chase his dreams and train at World Elite with his coach and three-time Olympian Logan Dooley, but the transition was difficult. Howell stands just over 6-feet tall, slim with shaggy blonde curls hanging just above his eyes. He is shy, not one to engage you first, and his assimilation to life surrounded by some of the top gymnasts in the nation took some time.
As he went through hard times not knowing many people and having to spend nights alone in his apartment, his early performances reflected his uncomfortableness. Howell fell at two of the three National meets and grew disappointed.
“I moved down there and at first I was really nervous and I wasn’t really enjoying myself there because I was still super new,” Howell said.
The boy who would only be entering his sophomore year at Atascadero had he stayed, found himself nervous around his coach Logan Dooley, who he spent years admiring and often lamented attending team dinners at competitions but that is no longer the case.
“Our friendship [between him and his coach, Logan Dooley] and trust and everything has grown and I am not nervous around him anymore and now I can tell him how I am truly feeling on a practice day,” Howell articulated. “At competitions, I used to be really scared to go to team dinners and now I go to them and I talk about all these stories are we are all super cool now.”
After spending more than a year in his new situation, Howell has made a new, additional family, his team USA and World Elite family, and his competitors' chances of beating him have dried up like a splash of water fading quickly into the concrete during a 100 degree North County summer day.
“After a while though, I started getting more comfortable with everyone there,” Howell stated. “And once I started to get more comfortable my training started to improve and I just started feeding off of all the other elite athletes there.”
Once acclimatized to his new surroundings, Howell smashed every goal he set for himself this season and has one more on the list, a trip to the World Championships in Tokyo in November. In order to be taken to Tokyo, Howell had to first dominate his competitors in three National competitions that would earn him points toward making the national team.
Over the past year, the former Atascadero resident placed in the top three in each of the National competitions, the VIP Classic, the Elite Challenge and the Youth Elite and also took home the gold in synchronized trampoline with his best friend, Marcus Davis at Western Regionals for fun.
Howell finished in third place at the VIP Classic, the first of the three National competitions he needed to perform at in order to make the National team. After finishing third and looking around the gym, Howell decided it was time to up his difficulty in his optional routines and dialed it up from a 12:1 to 13:7 and that is when his season really took a turn.
“When I was at Legacy, I didn’t really have anyone to feed off of or to improve off of, but there [World Elite] I just started skyrocketing because I had all this inspiration and motivation to get better,” he said.
Howell made the trip to the next National competition which was the Elite Challenge in North Carolina and performed the single-best routine of his young life in the finals, after cruising through the preliminary rounds, finishing again in third place, but this time just over a point behind Jace Williams and two behind Zachery Ramacci, who is widely regarded as the best junior elite trampolinist.
The final meet in which Howell could score points toward the National team came this past weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, at the 2019 USA Gymnastics Championships and he saved his best for last.
For the second consecutive competition, Atascadero’s youngest star put together the best routine of his life when it mattered most and this time something happened that he never would have believed just a few months ago, he placed second with a two-point gap between him and third place while he was less than a point away from first.
After the medal ceremony, Howell was about to walk back and see his parents when he was ushered into a different room by a representative from USA Gymnastics.
“Eight people make the National Team,” Howell said. “So when I went back there, there were eight people all in my age group and they told us to line up. Then they said congratulations to who I name out and then called Zachery [Ramacci, who finished first] and then they said my name and I was like ‘Oh my God I made National team.’”
Howell is officially one of the top three junior elite trampoline athletes in the country and now has the gear and the hardware to prove it. All the long drives, lonely nights, moments of feeling out of place have all paid off as he will now represent not only Atascadero but America.
There is one more huge announcement that will be coming for Howell in the coming days. In November, the National team will be heading to Tokyo for the World Championships, they will be competing in the same arena where the Olympics will take place in 2020, and they hold two spots for Junior Elite level athletes. Howell’s name being called second could indicate his No. 2 spot and thus a trip to Tokyo but no official announcement has been made as it is expected to come out on July 15.
Make sure to follow the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press on Facebook for updates on Howell and his place on the National team.