‘Pandemic leisure’: How a Texas gymnast’s COVID-19 isolation led him flipping into viral fame

23 year old Michael Lewis never expected to break the internet by turning around. Now that he’s done it, he’s building a viral career.

THE COLONY, Texas – Sometimes the simplest acts in our lives that we consider effortless are the inspiration, entertainment, or the moment of pleasant distraction a complete stranger needs.

Michael Lewis didn’t fully understand this until COVID-19 came to America, not until it went viral for doing exactly what he loves: freaking out.

“I was born and raised in a gym,” said Lewis. “My family taught gymnastics. I was in their gym from the age of zero because they were both coaches.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” said Lewis with a laugh.

Lewis teaches gymnastics himself at Tumble HQ in The Colony for most of the day.

It’s a career he naturally chose after years of professional football.

However, when COVID-19 surfaced in March 2020, Lewis was quickly unemployed due to orders that were left at home. The gyms weren’t allowed to reopen until May 2020, and even then they had to be 25% full.

Needless to say, Lewis had a lot of newfound free time to spend during this time.

“I didn’t have any work at all,” said Lewis.

Lewis, however, had a smartphone, social media, and creativity on his side.

Before the pandemic, he tried flip tricks on Instagram and TikTok.

In some of his most watched posts, Lewis would spin near the sides of the pools, land them, then gently dip his toes into the water and land on the side of the pool again.

After receiving new downtime, Lewis decided it was time to take his social media flips to another level.

“I’ve started posting more on Instagram and only seeing it all when people would like to watch,” said Lewis. “I’ve just started to take it really seriously.”

Lewis did some pretty crazy things with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

If you’ve never seen this movie before, check it out.

He would fold down stairs, picnic tables, fences, and virtually every ledge he could find.

“I’d drive around places and just say to myself, OK, I’ll come back here with my camera,” Lewis said with a laugh.

It wasn’t long before Instagram accounts like SportsCenter and WorldStarHipHop started sharing Lewis’ posts.

It turned out that the 23-year-old’s guess was correct; People enjoyed watching his unique talent.

When the WFAA interviewed him weeks ago, he had around 30,000 followers on Instagram.

Now he has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram, 1.2 million likes on TikTok and 76,000 followers on TikTok.

“It’s just blown up like crazy,” said Lewis.

Last month, Lewis took his videos to a new level: incorporating bowls of water into his flips.

It’s hard to explain, but in one video it starts with a bowl of water being held by the seats of two chairs facing each other.

Lewis runs to the chairs and turns them so low that his head is submerged in the bowl of water while he’s in midair. Then he lands the flip as traces of H2O fly off his hair.

Lewis isn’t the only one trying stunts like this on social media, but he’s definitely one of the most successful.

He said he got a lot of inspiration from other similar posts.

“I always remember to build on what I see like I could add a flip here or there,” said Lewis. “I just have so many ideas right away.”

Surprisingly, breaking the internet isn’t new to Lewis either.

While playing soccer for McKinney Boyd High School in 2015, he scored a goal when doing a flip throw-in from the sideline.

Don’t you know what that looks like? Check it out below.

National attention was drawn to Lewis after the video of the goal went viral.

“People were so shocked and they were like ‘whoa’,” said Lewis.

His coach at the time, Casey Osborn, couldn’t believe it. He encouraged Lewis to throw in the throw-in after putting the flip into practice. He certainly felt that a teenager with a gymnastics background could do it.

“You don’t see children that far, or usually never,” said Osborn. “Everyone went crazy and it wasn’t your average goal.”

A few years later, in 2019, Lewis set a Guinness World Record for the longest football throw-in at 59.817 meters.

The WFAA asked Osborn if he knew what Lewis was up to these days. He didn’t know so we showed him some of the flip videos.

His jaw dropped without hesitation.

“It’s so fast! Gosh, Louise!” Said Osborn. “It’s not shocking, but it’s damn cool.”

Lewis is still quite speechless that so many were interested in his gifts.

He said he was surprised when someone recognized him in public and said they were following him online.

“When that happens, you’re like a man, it’s cool that I can impress someone like that just by having fun,” said Lewis.

But will he be doing social media full time? Lewis is undecided for now.

Or rather, his decision remains “in the air”.