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With a jump rope, you can't skip hard work

That simple toy is a multi-tasking tool, conditioning the heart, arms and legs in one fell swoop after another.

October 20, 2003|Tom Dunkel | Baltimore Sun

"Our mission," says Jim McCleary, "is to promote physical fitness, not to jump fancy."

McCleary is delivering a prepractice pep talk to about 20 members of Kangaroo Kids, a precision jump-rope team he has coached since 1983.

His fitness message rings a little off-key. The team members, ranging in age from 9 to 20, are in undeniably good shape (and should be because most practice at least four days a week virtually year-round). But it's unlikely any of them reach for a rope because it will help them burn 600 calories an hour or improve their cardiovascular efficiency. These Kangaroos love to "jump fancy."

Jump-rope today contains elements of gymnastics, break dancing and Jazzercise. It's more hip-hop cool than playground plain.

The Kangaroo Kids put on about 100 public performances annually -- at the White House, during Washington Wizard half-time shows and in dozens of schools.

And they're good enough to have fancy-jumped their way to a third-place finish at last summer's United States Amateur Jump Rope Federation national championships.

The federation represents 3,300 jumpers on more than 200 teams. Jumping rope "used to be a girly sport or sissy sport. It's not that anymore," says Executive Director Marian Fletcher, noting that the national championships now are on ESPN.

Most people regard a strand of rope as something used to hang laundry. However, placed in properly trained hands, it becomes a magic wand. That goofy kid who can't write down a phone message or remember to take out the garbage suddenly is transformed into a cool, coordinated stunt machine.

He can leapfrog over partners. She can speed-jump 150 times a minute, with her rope twirling so fast it's invisible. Jumpers spin, slide and drop down into splits. McCleary is a gym teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Columbia, Md., so he can appreciate jump-rope as a conditioning tool as well as a sport.

"It's as tough as anything you can do," McCleary says. "It works the heart, legs and arms, every single part of the body. These kids are working all that and keeping up with their steps."

McCleary's 24-year-old daughter, Tyfanni -- who recently returned to Kangaroo Kids as a jumper-coach after graduating from Wake Forest University -- thinks that the narrow-minded "it's just a girly sport" crowd may have to be converted one person at a time.

"The best way to dispel that myth," she says, "is to hand them a rope and say, 'Try this for one minute.' "

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