CHATHAM ─ Don't be fooled by the significant collection of soccer balls tucked around Caroline Kennard's house. While the 10-year-old from Chatham definitely possesses a love of the game, there's another sport she also loves that recently earned her a big win: competitive jump rope.
Forget what you remember from your playground days. Competitive jump rope is a sport that takes skipping rope to new heights through speed drills, choreographed routines, and for Kennard, a national competition in Orlando, Fla., in June where she placed third in the United States in the 30-second speed contest.
Kennard began competitive jumping when she was in first grade as part of a now-defunct team called the Chatham Lightfoots, moving to the Brewster Bayside Skippers when the Chatham team was dissolved.
“We practice three to four days a week,” said Kennard. “We did regionals in New Hampshire, and you could qualify for nationals in Florida, and basically everyone on my team qualified, but only a couple of us went.”
Regionals took place in March, with nationals taking place at the end of June, during which Kennard earned not only her impressive third-place bronze medal for the speed contest, but also placed fifth in freestyle, ninth in double unders, and 10th for her one-minute speed. Freestyle, she and her mom, Amy, explained, is performing a solo routine that includes tricks, while double unders are when jumpers spin the rope around themselves twice before landing.
Kennard creates her routines under the guidance of team coach John Hammond.
“It's sort of like gymnastics and jump rope together,” she said. “You can use the rope and make up tricks. It's pretty hard because it's sometimes tiring [and] it takes a while because sometimes you have tricks in your routine you can't do, and you have to switch them out with something.”
Ultimately, jumpers end up with a routine roughly a minute long that is a mix of jump rope and physical tricks with clever names like the Donkey, and which can include flips, twists, turns, and other moves not typically associated with skipping rope.
“They make up all the routines themselves, and their coach helps so there's kind of a flow to it,” said Amy.
Speed contests are done with a wire rope and look a little like running in place while jumping rope. Competitions also involve Double Dutch, jumping with three or four people that switch between jumping and spinning the rope, and Pairs, or two jumpers joining in on a routine.
The Florida competition marked Kennard's first foray into such a massive event.
“It was really fun,” she said. “There were a lot of people there. There were a lot of good jump rope teams from all over the United States.”
While Kennard was thrilled to win a bronze medal and a small collection of ribbons, as well as collect team pins from teams across the US, there was one perk to placing in the top three she is still excited about.
“I got to go and take a picture with Mickey Mouse,” she said.
As her daughter showed off her ribbons and ropes, Amy explained that competitive jump rope is not for the faint of heart.
“It's not just skipping around with a rope,” said Amy. “These kids, this is their sport. They're incredible athletes. They're in amazing shape. You can tell they work so hard. It's more than just spinning a rope.”
Amy said she admired Caroline for her poise during the competition.
“I was so proud of her,” she said. “You're standing there on this big gym floor and there's a panel of judges just staring at you. I'm always amazed at how she can rise to that occasion. I think for her first competition at the age that she is, her first experience was great.”
Meanwhile, Kennard plans to stick with the sport at least until high school.
“I like meeting new people and being on the team,” she said.
“I think what's nice,” added Amy, “Is that it makes her so happy to do it.”