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A double-dutch treat

(L-R)Lizzy Sharman, Ali Maier and Becca Doll run through a double-dutch routine. - Brad Camp
(L-R)Lizzy Sharman, Ali Maier and Becca Doll run through a double-dutch routine.
— image credit: Brad Camp

Bainbridge Rope Skippers prep for this year's Junior Olympics.

To the uninitiated observer, a Bainbridge Rope Skippers practice can be intimidating. Young girls’ faces display fierce concentration as they run through their aerodynamic paces, feet thumping and ropes zinging.

Then there’s the post-routine commentary about the painful hazards of operating a wire rope at high speed.

“It just hurts when you whip yourself,” fifth-grader Ari Felkey said.

Felkey’s matter-of-fact, almost cheerful observation attracts a group of other jumpers who offer a camaraderie-laden rundown of who got cut on which body part and who’s now sporting a huge bruise on her thigh.

There’s no doubt that rope skippers get a rush from their sport.

“I love the athleticism, how in shape you have to be to be able to do it,” seventh grader Emily Applewhite said. “I love how it’s so addicting and fun. If you don’t get a trick, you have to keep trying and trying.”

“The stress of it – I love it,” 11th grader Ali Maier added.

This weekend, the team takes its happy intensity to Woodinville for a low-pressure competition that team manager Bonnie Harrison said will give the girls a chance to reconnect with other area jumpers. The weekend after that, they head to California to try to qualify for this summer’s Junior Olympic Games.

The rope skippers practice and compete year-round. And while the weather-driven extension to the school year means that they won’t be able to compete in this year’s U.S.A. Jump Rope nationals, Harrison said preparing for the Junior Olympics has given the girls a structured goal.

Rope skipping routines, especially the speed sessions, are marked by intense aerobic activity. Maier said that as a kid, jumping was the only sport out of her six that fatigued her enough to get her to sleep at night.

The sport’s athleticism, however, goes far beyond just bouncing up and down. In addition to whipping and pounding through timed speed events, the girls perform “Power” sessions that involve displacing and re-balancing their bodies. During double-dutch routines, three to four jumpers must synchronize their timing perfectly so that one or two can jump and flip their way through the licorice ropes spun by the others.

If the intensity of rope skipping initially attracts the girls, the friendships keep them at it.

“The older girls have jumped together for at least five or six years,” Harrison said. “It is such a unique sport that they tend to form their friendships there and stick with it.”

Felkey has been with the rope skippers for just five months and said she loves jumping not only because it’s fun but because she feels so close to her teammates, many of whom are her age.

Maier, a team member since the age of seven, now acts as an assistant coach and mentor to the younger girls. She was similarly inspired by two older team members when she first joined the rope skippers 11 years ago.

“I’m so happy with having participated in the sport for so long,” Maier said. “It’s competitive but not to the point where people are mean to each other.”

Maier thinks the Bainbridge skippers share a particularly unique bond by virtue of the fact that they live on an island.

“Other girls on other teams don’t hang out, but we do,” she said. “It works better that way, and everyone just loves each other.”

When Maier was at Woodward, she and the other students in her class were assigned to write a letter to their future selves stating three personal goals. When they reached a certain age, they could open the letters and see whether their goals had become a reality.

All three of Maier’s goals were “Go to the Olympics in 2008.” But there’s still no Olympic category for rope skipping.

“People don’t think it’s a sport, but it really is,” Felkey said.

The Disney film “Jump In,” starring tween heartthrob Corbin Bleu, raised general awareness of rope skipping. The movie was inspired by the national double-dutch league, which stages a yearly holiday classic at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y. Harrison thinks it might be fun for the girls to attend some day.

In the meantime, the team stays busy with its area competitions, workshops and performances. Harrison just mentioned one thing that’s missing.

“If I could just get more interest on the part of the boys,” she said.

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