Freshman jump ropes her way to the national level

January 27, 2017 — by Jay Kim and Michelle Lee

Surrounded by her teammates at Disney World, freshman Iris Chiu tried to focus on keeping her rhythm steady as she swung her jump rope as fast as she could. Chiu and her jump roping team were at the annual summer National Jump Roping Competition hosted by the United States Amateur Jump Rope Federation (USAJRF).  

USAJRF is the only organization that hosts all the annual national tournaments, camps, workshops and clinics for the sport of jump roping. And while jump roping is part of the annual AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Junior Olympic Games, it is not a sport that enjoys much participation.

“Jump roping is not a popular sport, so if you join, everyone is like, ‘Wow, you jump rope,’” Chiu said.

It is this uniqueness that compelled Chiu to pick up jump roping as a sport in fifth grade and follow in her older sister, 2015 alumna Larissa Chiu’s footsteps.

“Watching my sister participate in such an interesting sport made me want to join,” Chiu said. “Jump roping is a relatively smaller sport and it’s cool because that allows everyone to be a family, even those on different teams.”

The creative aspect of jump roping is also what keeps Chiu playing the sport. As a group, Chiu and her jump roping team — Sol Jumpers — have to create their individual routines and come up with different ways to showcase their different skills. Although creating the routines can be challenging, Chiu enjoys it because she is forced to think outside the box and try new combinations.

Jump roping requires a great deal of flexibility and endurance. For Chiu, the gymnastic aspect of jump roping is the most challenging. She must be  able to do tricks such as front handsprings and double tucks, which are double backward flips while jump roping.

“I’m not that talented at gymnastics, which becomes clear especially because some people on my team have a dance and gymnastics background,” Chiu said. To make up for her lack of gymnastics skills, Chiu relies on her speed, endurance and sprinting for most of her wins. She refines these skills at a gym over the weekends because of the lack of space in her home.

While being able to do gymnastics tricks isn’t required to excel in jump roping, Chiu works on those skills by doing various stretching practices that could help her excel in competitions.

Every jump roping competition is divided into a series of events, such as endurance and freestyle. Endurance is a test of both speed and duration, while freestyle involves gymnastic tricks like the double dutch and single ropes in pairs.

The scoring for the competition is different for each event. For Chiu, who mainly does speed and endurance competitions, the judges at each speed and power station will count her jumps within an allotted amount of time using a mechanical hand-held clicker.

Sprinting, which is Chiu’s strongest category, consists of 30 seconds of skipping as fast as possible and then 30 seconds of double unders as fast as possible. Chiu usually places in the double dutch freestyle aspect of the competition and placed in top five at her most recent competition where there are anywhere between 75 to 130 people.

Because of the sport’s scarcity of competitions, it is easier to reach the national level compared to other sports, she said. One of the few competitions Chiu participated in was Nationals Jump Roping Competition at Disney World last July, a 3-day competition that showcases speed and freestyle categories.

Despite her devotion to the sport, Chiu said she is not a part of Saratoga High’s ISPE program because her team started training for jump roping competitions in October, when it was too late for her to sign up for ISPE.

Despite spending around six hours a week in training, Chiu is not sure whether or not she wants to pursue the sport in college and beyond, since few colleges have competitive jump roping teams. For instance, Stanford has only a performance team, while Ohio State University has a jump roping club.

Regardless of whether Chiu continues jump roping in college, the hobby has benefitted her in many ways, physically and socially.

“I’ve definitely become more fit as a person but it’s also made me more open,” Chiu said. “My entire team is not anywhere near here in Saratoga, so I had to reach out to more people and get used to bonding with new people.”