Ask 10-year-old Amber Platt the secret to being an endurance jump roper, and she’ll tell you it’s all in the shoes.
Or lack thereof.
“Sometimes your shoes weigh you down,” said the tuckered-out fifth-grader, slipping her turquoise Converse shoes over pink and purple socks. “Taking them off makes you lighter.”
Skipping rope isn’t just child’s play at Luigi Elementary School. Droves of springing students spend recess and lunch burning around 700 calories an hour while participating in a yearlong, optional fitness program twice a week.
Towering above the mass of 50 bouncing children Tuesday morning stands Pat Vickroy, 57, a veteran Gilroy P.E. teacher of three decades who delights in watching the activity take flight outside of school once students get hooked.
“I live in the area,” he said, referring to the locale surrounding Luigi Elementary school, located at 9225 Call Del Rey. “Whenever I drive around the neighborhood, I see kids jump roping all over the place.”
Since Vickroy initiated the popular program 15 years ago, jump fever spread like a happy pandemic as students push themselves to advance in weekly Jump Rope Challenges. Benchmarks entail six different levels, including two-, five-, eight-, 10- and 15-minute intervals that garner prizes and formal recognition. To attain the sixth and highest level – the venerated Jump of Fame – a student must jump rope for six consecutive minutes, in addition to clocking 50 “double unders” – two rope rotations for each jump – during a separate jumping session.
Hopping their way into GUSD history this year are Luigi fifth-graders Niet Khay and Aurea Martin, a pair of 10-year-olds who make Double Dutch look mundane.
With eight students making the Jump of Fame in the challenge’s 15-year existence, the girls each set records as the first to do it twice: Once in 2010 and again in 2011. Martin and Khay are also the top two record-holders for double unders; Martin with 121 and Khay close behind with 73.
Their prowess doesn’t pause there. In less than a month, the bounding buddies hammered out a choreographed routine after Vickroy showed them videos of professional teams performing on the competitive circuit. Inspired by the pros, Khay and Martin spend an average of two to three hours a day perfecting their newfound sport.
“We kinda figured it out from one of the videos,” said Khay, on gleaning pointers for their synchronized jump rope routine by logging onto YouTube and watching the pros.
Their drill is reminiscent of River Dancing, but with ropes: Lots of jumping and twirling to a high-energy tempo while keeping an upright posture.
If you tune out the sounds of shuffling feet and whizzing rope, you can hear the pair keeping time beneath their breath.
Prior to the challenge on Tuesday, Platt, another up-and-coming jump rope all star, resolved, “last year I made it up to eight minutes. I’m pretty sure I can make it to 15.”
With a slightly pained but determined gaze, she blew the lid off her goal while giddy classmates clustered around to count down the 10 final seconds of Platt’s 15-minute session. Following an exclamatory “one!” spectators engulfed a winded Platt with a congratulatory group bear hug.
It’s this flavor of shared enthusiasm Vickroy says propels momentum for the program, which is designed to resonate with all levels of skill in a city where 36 percent of Gilroy’s youth are overweight, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
Scanning a swarm of jumpers working toward their first milestone, Vickroy noted many haven’t clocked two consecutive minutes, “but they’re trying their hearts out.”
Equipment and awards for this not required P.E. class are paid for by Vickroy. Students who jump for two minutes earn their own rope; students who jump for five minutes earn a long rope for their class; those who make eight minutes are given a rope to give to someone else (Vickroy encourages gifting the prize to a family member, or someone who is unable to meet the higher challenges).
And that’s how the jump bug spreads.
“Me and my brother practiced all last night,” said fifth-grader Kayle Norris, 10, who made the 10-minute challenge wearing knee-high leather boots. “I gave him my purple jump rope that I won last year so we could practice together.”
Students like Norris who hit the fourth level are given an engraved wristband that reads “10 minute challenge.” Go-getters who clock 15 consecutive minutes “get a new car for when they’re old enough to drive,” Vickroy joked.
They’re actually recognized in front of an assembly.
On Tuesday, Platt became the fourth student to join the 15-minute group for 2011. The other three include Khay, Martin and fifth-grader Catalina Lopez, 10.
While he good-humoredly admits spending $1,000 a year on jump ropes and specially-made wristbands is “a small fortune,” Vickroy said the satisfaction he gets from watching students set a goal – and the joy that follows when they achieve it – is two-fold.
He also facilitates the Jump Rope Challenge at Antonio Del Buono Elementary, where as many as 150 participants have joined in on the fun, and part-time at Las Animas Elementary.
“Listen,” said Vickroy, cupping hand to ear, indicating to the chorus of ropes whipping through the air. “Doesn’t that sound cool?”