The Emperor’s New Jump Rope
On family movie night we watched "Jump In", a Disney Channel Original (2007) featuring teen heartthrob Corbin Bleu. We cheered during the double-dutch competition scenes. "Wow," my kids said as the credits ran. "We want to try that."
"You bet," I told them. "Just as soon as we get a jump rope."
The next morning we drove to our local jump rope factory and bought two custom made ropes. Within weeks, my kids were double-dutching like Olympic pros. My upper arms were looking pretty taut from all the turning.
One day, while watching my son leap into the spinning ropes with his eyes closed, I had an impulsive thought. I could learn to jump rope. We all know by now that jumping rope is one of the most efficient methods of burning calories. In addition, Japanese studies have shown that rats who jump rope 40 times a day for 5 days a week significantly increase their bone density.
Well, if rats can jump rope—golly—surely I can too. How hard can it possibly be?
Pretty hard, as it turns out. You see, I'm a rhythmic deviant. As a child, I had dance lessons at the community center. My parents, bless them, thought it was only a matter of time and training before my natural, in-born coordination kicked in. But time only showed that I was naturally graceless and no amount of dance class was going to help. My parents burnt all the pictures of me in a leotard and I spent the rest of my childhood taking ceramics workshops.
At first, my kids were supportive and enthusiastic about my aspiration to jump rope. They sang rhymes to help me keep time (Nik-ki Schu-lak sat on a pin. How many inch-es did it go in? One and two and...) and didn't seem embarrassed that after weeks of consistent effort, the pin I sat on wouldn't go in more than ten inches. They didn't seem embarrassed by me, just bored. My husband kindly presented me with a high-end jump rope. The handles were padded and contoured with ball-and-socket swivel. I studied the accompanying instructional DVD carefully. The featured jump rope guru made it all look so easy. I tried to emulate his style and follow his foolproof steps. After a couple of weeks, my pin went in twenty inches, but only when I was looking directly at my feet.
One form of athleticism I'm willing to do in public is walking. I walk with a long-legged friend in a hilly park several times a week. This friend walks quickly, almost, it seems, without effort. I follow breathlessly behind her. We'd talked about ending each walk with 10 minutes of jumping rope, but I kept forgetting to bring my rope. Then, in a moment of reckless clarity, I realized I didn't need to bring a rope to our workout. It's not the rope that's important in jumping rope, it's the jumping. I could simply jump and get all the benefits; I didn't need to jump over anything. I didn't need to have an ounce of coordination. Just stamina.
I went home immediately to try this idea out in the privacy of my kitchen—jumping, that is, right in front of my sink. I felt silly, though. Because there I was, just jumping up and down. I needed handles. I marched right out to the storage bin on the front porch and found the fancy jump rope my husband had given me. With a pair of shears I cut the rope in half. I hastily trimmed each side leaving twelve inches of rope hanging from the handles. With total confidence, I swung my virtual rope—and jumped. Ten times. Twenty. Fifty times. One hundred. Yes!
I jumped some more. I spun around. I hopped on one foot, then the other. I made a double jump, then a triple. Any anxiety about tripping was gone. I felt glorious! Liberated! Joyful! I jumped until I was red in the face and breathing hard. I jumped backwards, crisscrossed my arms; I never missed a beat. I was a perfectly good jumper. It was the rope that had been in my way.
That afternoon while my son and his friend kicked a soccer ball in the driveway, I brought out my new jump rope. The kids ignored me until I started jumping really fast, like a super-lightweight championship boxer.
My son watched me for a minute. "Mom. You finally learned how to jump rope." My heart swelled with pride.
As the light faded to dusk, my across-the-street-neighbor called out her upstairs window. "Hey! Look at you go, Nikki! You've finally got it! You're jumping rope!"
My daughter arrived home from dance class. I was excited to show off my skills. I did some tricks, then panted, "How do you like my new jump rope?"
"Mom. You're not actually jumping rope. You're just jumping."
"Honey, you have to believe."
"Why do I have to believe? There's no rope."
"Can't you see, honey? There's no barrier to my success."
"Mom, I can see there's no rope."
I did a beautiful hop-skip and spun around. She shrugged and wandered off to do her homework. My husband arrived home and found me in front of the stove simultaneously jumping rope and watching the onions saute. He called out a warning from across the dining room, "Stop! You're gonna break a light bulb!"
When he saw the rope was virtual, he was even more worried. "What are you doing?"
"Here." I handed him my invention. "Try it out." He didn't want to. He was too tired from his bike commute.
"You'll see," I told him. "Everyone will want one!"
"You think there's a market for broken jump ropes?"
"It's not broken. It's a metaphor. It's a scaffold to a goal."
"There's no way to hang it up."
"I'll figure something out."
"People will lose one of the handles. Then it'll be useless."
But after a warm dinner and a cold beer, my husband did try it out and he was eminently more supportive. He laughed. "Well honey, you've done it. You've invented The Emperor's New Jump Rope." His enthusiasm made me flutter. We were gonna make millions.
I went online to begin a market analysis: of course, someone had beat me to it.
Well, not exactly. The patented model is called the JumpSnap and it's much fancier than the Emperor's version. The JumpSnap is electronic and it costs about $50 with shipping. It measures your heart rate, and emits the sound of a rope hitting the ground every time you swing the handles. It has an anti-shock mat.
I'm comforted to know that my solution to the same problem is more elegant and more affordable. Because all you really need is an old rope, a pair of scissors, and a little imagination.
If you talk to my daughter about my invention she'll remind you there's no rope. But this is a girl who can dance.
 For over 45 years, The Jump Rope Store has manufactured the Olympic Jump Rope with custom colors and sizes at the factory in Portland, Oregon.
 Osteoporos Int. 2009 Jun; 20(6):963-72. Epub 2008 Oct 7. Minimum level of jumping exercise required to maintain exercise-induced bone gains in female rats.