Heartbeats alumni have graced such high-profile stages as “America’s Got Talent” and “Cirque Dreams.” Known for their freestyle prowess, the Heartbeats are reigning USA Jump Rope Grand National Team Show Champions for their large group routine choreographed to music, a title they will defend this summer in Cleveland, as the city will host the U.S. National Jump Rope Championships June 24-27 at Cleveland Public Auditorium downtown.
Founded in 1992 in the Revere Local Schools, the team merged with Strongsville’s Allen All Stars and Mustang Ropers in 1995 to create what is now a 30-person coed team of elementary through high school students who demonstrate that health and fitness can be fun.
Jump rope and Double Dutch were playground games long before sanctioned competitions and Olympic ambitions. Jump rope also has gained popularity in fitness circuits and sports training programs thanks to its well-documented health benefits, accessibility and efficiency as a total body workout. The only equipment required is a rope, so it can be done anywhere, anytime at little expense. Jump rope is known to help improve strength, coordination, balance and endurance.
Studies have found jump rope’s exceptional cardiovascular benefits make it a more efficient workout than running. A 1968 study published in Research Quarterly, a journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Research, found that 10 minutes of jump rope is as efficient as 30 minutes of daily jogging for improving cardiovascular efficiency, as measured by the Harvard Step Test.
A person can jump with as little or as much intensity as desired, increasing pace and incorporating tricks, from a simple side swing or crossover to more challenging moves like the Awesome Annie, Double Under and High Frog.
Today’s athletes perform complex combinations that require agility, precision, synchronization, speed and even gymnastic elements.
The Heartbeats already have earned national and international acclaim for success at competitions and performances at schools and events, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For their 2015 appearance, the team organized a group of 120 jump rope athletes from across the country and coordinated a routine, which they performed on live television after jumping the entire 2.8-mile parade route to Herald Square.
Olivia Bewie, a junior at Strongsville High School, described the experience as “surreal.”
“Some people I met, I still keep in touch with today,” she says. “We’re like a big family.”
Ethan Banning, a sophomore, agrees.
“My favorite part of jump rope is the little community we have on the team and friends I make across the country and world,” he said.
The passion for the sport and connections formed are so enduring, jumpers have performed at one another’s weddings.
“The friendships and opportunities that the sport has given to the kids is invaluable,” says Pam Evans, who has coached the Heartbeats since 1995, when her daughter and son were members. “I tell our jumpers, medals and ribbons are nice, but a year from now, you won’t remember who won the gold, silver or bronze, but what you will remember is what you learned from other jumpers, the friendships that you made, and how other jumpers treated you. This is much more important than ribbons or medals. Learning how to work with others and lead younger jumpers are skills that will help them throughout school and as adults.”
Jumping in February
February is American Heart Month, and it also marks the start of the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge program at many area elementary schools.
Students and young athletes from across Northeast Ohio will jump rope and take part in other fitness activities to support their schools while boosting their own social, emotional and physical well-being through the program that helps encourage starting heart-healthy lifestyles while giving back to the community. The money raised from this national effort helps fund research, education and initiatives like CPR training and AEDs in the community.
“In Cuyahoga county alone, we work with 90 schools registered to do an event and impacted about 41,000 students raising $265,000 last year,” says Lauren Rieser, American Heart Association youth market vice president, Midwest affiliate.
She says schools can implement the program any time of year, but February is popular for ramping up activities during colder months indoors. Jump rope remains a key component of the program, which was revamped and expanded from “Jump Rope for Heart” to now include four activation options: jump rope, basketball, dance and warrior obstacle courses. (Middle schools and high schools implement the American Heart Challenge.)
“We want to be a relentless force for longer, healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” Rieser says. “Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable. We are working with schools to get healthy messaging out early to create healthy lifestyles.”
Schools can register at no cost to gain access to an entire curriculum with lesson plans and activities focused on whole-child learning, from conflict resolution to how to make your plate colorful. Grant opportunities also are available.
“The fundraising events go on a couple weeks, but we partner all year long,” Rieser says. “Whether or not a child participates in fundraising, he or she takes part in the activities and benefits from healthy messaging.”
Jump rope talent and interest sparked through the program has inspired teachers and children to formalize after school clubs and competitive teams, dating back to the Skip Stars of Parma, a trailblazer for the sport in the late 1980s through 90s.
Linda Ballrick, of Rocky River, reminisces about her days as a member.
“The sport will always have a special place in my heart,” she says. “My former teammates and I still get together, and now we jump rope with our own children as a fun way to stay active.”
Jump Rope for All
Anita Gabel, health and P.E. teacher at Norton Middle school, coaches the Jammin’ Jumpers of Wadsworth, a 12-member youth team that encourages community involvement for heart health by jumping rope for fun, performances, competitions and community events like the Akron Heart Walk. Having taught adaptive physical education for five years, Gabel enjoys seeing children of all abilities take part in jumping or turning ropes.
“When I talk to other P.E. teachers, out of any unit we do… everyone wants to participate and is comfortable to try jump rope,” she says. “The ability to include as many children as you can where they are excited, physically active and character-building drew me into the sport. I love it.”