Kathleen D. Bailey
When Malia Everett from Exeter attended her first skipping rope workshop, she was frustrated because she could not master the “double-under” technique.
She would soon be playing around with terms like “extended wheel” and “fire exchange” as she delved deeper into the world of competitive jumping and joined the Extreme Air New Hampshire skipping rope team.
“It’s a whole new vocabulary,” said her mother and assistant coach Gloria Everett. “I’m still learning.”
Extreme Air is the only jump rope team aged 8 to 18 to represent the state of New Hampshire on the USA Jump Rope National Circuit.
This Thanksgiving, four members of the group will perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They are Malia Everett (18) from Exeter, Eilis McKenna (14) from Newmarket, Katelyn O’Neill (15) from Londonderry and Margaux Freer (15) from Portsmouth.
The girls will join other jumpers from across the country, representing 25 teams from 21 states. You will jump the entire 2.5 mile parade route with ropes and perform a group routine in Herald Square (in front of Macy’s) which is broadcast on national television.
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“They’ll be jumping 2 1/2 to 2 hours,” said Gloria Everett. “They never stop moving. At the end of the route, they only have a few minutes to get to Herald Square for their performance.”
The parade performance, Everett said, is an opportunity to showcase the sport of skipping rope.
Yes, jumping rope is a sport
Jumping rope as an organized sport began on the Seacoast with the Hot Shots, a group from Newmarket. Extreme Air “branched off” from the Hot Shots under the leadership of Noreen Hodden, who retired four years ago.
The group started with five or six jumpers, according to Everett, and grew to a maximum of 28. The ranks have thinned out over the past year, and they’re starting again with a core group of nine, she said.
A jumping season, she said, starts in September. You are training speed and freestyle in both single rope and double Dutch competitions for a regional competition in March that includes teams from all over New England, New York and Pennsylvania. Winning the regional qualified members for the Nationals, and Extreme Air sent multiple jumpers to the national event, she said.
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The sport is physically demanding and requires intense self-discipline, control and synchronicity.
“You have to learn six or seven routines to compete. People don’t see the mental challenges,” said Gloria Everett. “Most of the kids we meet in national competitions are extremely intelligent.”
Why do they jump
Eilis Mckenna, 14, from Newmarket, has been jumping for about seven years. She joined a school team and then tried Extreme Air.
“I like the art of it,” she said. “We can create our own routines. It’s so much fun.”
Malia Everett saw a skipping rope demo when she was 9 and there was no going back to Exeter High School.
“I knew this was my thing,” she recalls. “I tried other sports, but that was it.”
Katelyn O’Neill, now a student at Londonderry High School, started jumping in elementary school with a group called Hip Hoppin ‘Hawks.
“I loved it,” recalled O’Neill. “My mom looked around for a group and found Extreme Air.”
Now the O’Neills are traveling from Londonderry to Stratham and Kittery for training.
“It’s been a long day,” she said of the trips to the Seacoast. “But when you do something you love, it’s not that difficult.”
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A sport like no other
For Mckenna, the support of the team is one thing that keeps her jumping.
“You go up against teammates and they still cheer you on,” she said. “It’s really about your personal best.”
It’s also an opportunity to meet new people.
“You meet different people who share your passion,” said Margaux Freer, a Portsmouth High School student. “It’s a unique sport, not mainstream.”
As a senior jumper and competitor, Freer has attended events across the country and bonded with others who also jump.
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It’s not as easy as it looks
Freer said she grappled with misunderstandings about her sport.
“Sometimes I just tell friends, ‘I’ve got practice,’ and leave it at that,” she mused. “A lot of people really don’t get it. It’s not just a simple playground game. We go to world championships, we go to Macy’s Parade.”
But for those who take a second look, she added, “It’s pretty cool to see.”
Katelyn O’Neill said it wasn’t as easy as it looks.
“People will say, ‘Oh, it’s not that hard’ or ‘Oh, it’s a soft ice sport,'” she said. “But if you give them a rope, they’ll have trouble getting over it.”
In particular, she remembers some cousins who were skeptical until they saw a competition, “and they were overwhelmed,” she said.
Her mother Chris, who is also a trainer, said there is a lot to jumping including an advanced vocabulary and a range of tools. For example, she said, different materials and weights are used for the ropes for different stunts.
O’Neill said she would like to see jumping rope as an Olympic sport. It is already represented at the Paralympics and a former teammate, Liza Corso, came second in the world event.
She added that jumping has made its way onto college campuses, with college teams competing against each other. They were also joined by an adult-only team in a recent regional competition.
“Anyone can jump,” O’Neill mused. “What you do within the jump makes all the difference.”
A chance to show yourself
Extreme Air CEO Kristen Freer said the four jumpers taking part in the Macy’s Parade are ready for the big day.
They flew to Ohio for Labor Day weekend to train with the other 116 jumpers from around the country under the Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade (JUMP) umbrella.
Organized by the Heartbeats Jump Rope Team in Ohio, JUMP was already involved in the parade in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
This year’s parade can be watched live on NBC from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. It will also be streamed for the first time on NBC’s Peacock streaming platform.
“It’s going to be tough, but the jumpers are ready and super excited,” said Freer.