Jumping rope is not always considered a sport, said 15-year-old Kelley Olson. At least not until people witness competitive rope jumping first hand.
“I like jumping because you don’t see it on an everyday basis,” said Olson, a member of the Juneau Jumpers. “People just stare at you when you say you jump rope. They don’t believe it resembles a sport activity until they see you in action.”
The Juneau Jumpers have had lots of action this year. They were in the famous Macy’s Day Parade and the Tournament of Rose Parade. They have also traveled all over Alaska for workshops, but their fun doesn’t stop there. Several team members will be headed to Hong Kong July 25 to compete in a world championship.
The jumpers have been training daily for the Federation Internationale de saut a la Corde (FISAC) world championships since early February. Members of the Juneau Jumpers went to a qualifying competition earlier this year in North Carolina and five of them placed on the U.S.A team. The U.S.A. team has a total of about 50 people.
FISAC held its first competition in Sydney, Australia, in 1997. The event only had 120 skippers attend. This early version of the competition later became known as the Masters event, based off of a competition developed by Bob Berry of the Juneau Jumpers.
The JJ team members are both nervous and excited to participate in the “Olympics” of jump roping. Most of them have not been out of the country.
The team also had to recently relearn routines because a team member, Dunya Hermann, injured her ankle and is unable to compete. Her alternate, Olson, stepped in last month. The rest of the team has been practicing since late February and they are grateful that Olson was able to step in and learn the routines so quickly.
Like most team sports, the Juneau Jumpers have bonded during preparing for their competition.
“We do this thing called stacks,” said 16-year-old Martina Worden. “It is where someone does a trick on top of another team member while the rope goes underneath you. It takes a lot of coordination and it’s easy to get tangled up in the ropes. Stuff like that makes you grow closer with your team members.”
A mother-daughter duo, Karen and Tera Ross, lead the team as the head coaches. They know from experience that the Juneau Jumpers cultivates an environment that brings the team and parents together as a large family.
Karen Ross always spent time at Tera’s practices about 16 years ago because she lived out the road and didn’t want to travel back and forth. Slowly, the coach started handing her responsibility until one day she took over the team.
“I’ve been living in the gym for 16 years,” Karen Ross said. “We train every day. We are learning as we go.”
Tera Ross added: “I am excited for the competition because I think they’ll have a lot of fun seeing all the other teams. Japan and Hungary have crazy routines; they do a lot of breakdancing. It’ll be a good experience for the team to bond more and learn from others. It isn’t about winning to us, we just want the kids to do their best.”
The four girls representing Juneau Jumpers will compete in 10 events and they get placed as a team. Tori Ross, a 17-year-old member of the girls’ team, will also be participating in single events where she will be individually scored. Connor Ulmer, 16, will be participating in a men’s single free event.
This is the first time the Juneau Jumpers have been to a world competition in more than 10 years. Past teams have traveled to places like Australia and Belgium. The current team leaves on July 25 and will be returning on Aug. 7, after they participate in a jumper’s camp being held in Hong Kong after the competition is over.
“It’s both scary and exciting going to compete,” Tera Ross said. “It’ll be awesome to see the elite members from all around our country and others perform. It has been tough and time consuming to prepare for the event. But it’s been worth it. We have grown into a family and we will learn even more about ourselves and each other while we are in Hong Kong.”
When the group returns, they’ll hold a summer camp Aug. 11-15 at Thunder Mountain High School for those interested in learning more about jumping rope.
For people who would like to tryout for the team, auditions will be held Sunday, Oct. 6 from 3-5 p.m. at TMHS.