Tributes are pouring in from near and far for Aaron Johnson, who is remembered as "the man who soared."
Johnson, 61, passed away suddenly in Royal Columbian Hospital on Nov. 29, surrounded by his immediate family.
A former Canadian national trampoline champion and coach, Johnson is considered a pioneer in trampolining and tumbling in Canada. His many accomplishments include coaching the Shasta Trampoline Club and running the detached youth program in New Westminster.
"He was incredibly dedicated to helping young people and really reaching out, in particular, to kids who were troubled and at-risk and needed help and guidance," said city administrator Paul Daminato. "He was really there for those kids."
In the years before the youth centre opened in New Westminster, Family Services of Greater Vancouver's detached youth program provided services to New Westminster youth.
"He worked very hard to scrape together grants and whatever funding he could to make that work," Daminato said. "He was determined to have services for those kids."
Darryl Scheelar, a former student, posted a tribute on Facebook stating that Johnson was not only a loving father to son Travis and daughter Sarah and husband to Valerie, but he was an amazing and giving mentor and coach to hundreds of athletes and performers of both trampoline and circus.
"I met Aaron in 1981, and through his excellent guidance and instruction, I went on to win several national titles. But that pales in comparison to what he did for me after my trampoline and tumbling career was over. In 1987, Aaron was still running the detached youth program for Family Services. He decided to take a chance on me, and hired me as a youth counsellor at their drop-in centre. Four months later, he hired a young girl named Kristina von Ilberg, and she and I hit it off. We ended up getting married three years later, and having two beautiful children together. So, not only did Aaron give me the skills and building blocks to be successful in my career as a stunt performer, but he also gave me the family that I have today. Our hearts go out to the entire Johnson family at this time."
Daminato, who worked in the city's parks and recreation department when Johnson helped coach Shasta, recalls him setting up trampolines, moving equipment around and doing whatever job needed to be done.
"He was always a real positive, enthusiastic person, just a pleasure to be around," he said.
The Alberta Gymnastics Federation website states that Johnson had a reputation of being "one of the highest bouncers in the world, was the Canadian senior trampoline champion in 1975 and 1976, was the first Canadian to compete a Triffis, which is a twisting triple somersault and retired from competition in 1976 because of injury.
Johnson was a coach of the Canadian national team from 1979 to 1990. In 1999, Johnson left the Royal City to take on a new challenge - serving as artistic coach with Cirque du Soleil for Mystere in Las Vegas.
In 2004, Johnson and son Travis founded the Vancouver Circus School, which offers recreational programs and a professional division of circus performers.
"Aaron was exceptionally kind and caring; passionate and incredibly skilled, both as an athlete and a coach; most of all, he was extremely humble. He is greatly missed by many, from all around the world. Indeed, his contributions to the local and international acrobatic and circus communities are immeasurable," said an obituary posted on the Vancouver Circus School website. "Aaron is survived by his wife of 34 years, Valerie; children, Travis and Sarah (Kevin); grandson, Noah; mother, Alice; sisters Darlene and Karen; brothers Arvid and Dana; and his dog, Abby."
A memorial service was set for Wednesday, Dec. 5 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Centennial Lodge in Queen's Park.
Joanne Edey-Nicoll, the city's former assistant director of parks, culture and recreation, said Johnson worked with the city on a number of partnerships that benefited local youth. When the city first developed its youth services program, it partnered with Johnson and Family Services of Greater Vancouver on youth programs.
"Aaron was a really strong advocate for disadvantaged youth," she said. "He really gave those youth that didn't have a voice a voice."
Shasta Trampoline Club also partnered with the City of New Westminster for its programs. The club is based in Queen's Park Arenex.
"Aaron was instrumental in setting up that partnership as well," she said. "He looked for ways to make partnerships work for the betterment of youth."