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Health & Wellness
January 9, 2024

Jumping For Joy

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WHEN PAMELA ROBINSON FOUND HERSELF at the end of her rope, she discovered a new sense of hope by picking up one she had discarded a long time ago. Jumping rope like she had done as a young girl brought her through some dark days, inspiring a retro fitness movement that has captured the imagination of thousands of women.
It started in 2016, when Robinson went to a friend’s place for a barbecue. The mother of three was at a low point in her life, and disappointed to see all the young people at the gathering sitting inside on the sofa, glued to their cell phones.
“They’re playing video games and texting and tweeting and doing all this stuff they do these days, and the older people, we were sitting around and talking about how it was such a beautiful day outside,” she recalls. “And we talked about how, if that were us, we would be outside playing—jumping rope, hopscotch and hula-hooping.
“One of the ladies said, ‘Man, if I had a Double Dutch rope right now, I could really show these girls some things.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I got a Double Dutch rope in my car.’ And so I brought the rope out. We started jumping and during that 30 minutes that we were jumping, I completely forgot about all of the really serious issues that I was dealing with personally at that time.”
That experience prompted her to post a message on social media to see if there were any other Chicago-area women out there who might enjoy revisiting their youthful Double Dutch days. A handful of gals turned out for the first meetup, when the 40-Plus Double Dutch Club was born. Since then, it has grown to some 20,000 members in more than 100 groups across the world, including one in Israel.
The movement taps into fond childhood memories for those who were part of the sidewalk sport’s boom in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s when, Robinson says, “girls everywhere were jumping Double Dutch every day.”
Taking a break
Though it dates back to Depression days, the sport really took off in urban communities a half-century or so later as a positive outlet on the streets for girls who didn’t get to join the boys in football and basketball. Plus, it was cheap and portable. “All you need is a clothesline or a rope,” Robinson says.
As a kid she jumped “all day, every day in the summertime until the streetlights came on.” When she got older, she kept a rope in the trunk of her car and would bring it out as a novelty at family reunions or barbecues a couple of times a year.
“Every time I did, there would be such euphoria for the women who would see it. You bring out the rope and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I want a turn.’ It would just take them back automatically, just seeing the rope, just untangling them. It takes people back to childhood automatically.”
But it wasn’t until her bout of deep depression and first Facebook post looking for other Double Dutchers that she realized just how much that childhood activity meant to so many others.
The clubs aren’t just about Double Dutch, where jumpers skip over two simultaneously turning ropes. They also offer hopscotch, jacks, hand and slide games for those whose creaky knees and hips, or other health issues, prohibit vigorous exercise. “It’s not just about Double Dutch,” Robinson explains. “It’s about taking a break from adulting, and communicating and connecting with others.”
There’s no membership fee, though participants are asked to buy a club T to help with administrative costs and so that “when we get together, we look like a team. This group is about much more than Double Dutch; we have actually created a sisterhood that spans the entire nation and beyond.” The group’s Facebook page notes that each session ends with a prayer “because we are grateful to God that 20, 30 and 40 years later we can still JUMP!!!”
There is one emphatic rule: the age limit. “We’re open to any woman over 40, regardless of your skill level, your size, your ability,” says Robinson. “If you are a woman over 40, we want you to come out and play with us.”
Filling a void
If someone younger expresses interest, “we’ll teach them how to jump real quick, then we’ll send them on their way,” Robinson says. “We don’t want to have to be babysitting; no kids… because this is for us, this is our playtime.”
That’s not to say Robinson doesn’t like children—indeed, she cites her own three as the main waymakers in her life.
First, there’s her oldest son, Julian, who left Chicago for Oregon at age 25 with $100 in his pocket and a dream of getting a job at Nike world headquarters. “They weren’t hiring, they didn’t have any jobs that he knew about. He just said, ‘I’m going to step out on faith and I’m going.’” In due time, he earned a deal for his own shoe design.
“That’s a waymaker to me,” Robinson says. “He showed that even if there is no way, God will make a way, and I’m just going to do my part and make sure I’m putting in the work.”
Then there’s her daughter, Jordyn, who opened her own baking business at age 19. “She was in her shop from five, six in the morning until one and two in the morning, working on cakes,” says Robinson. “I’m looking at both of them… and I’m like, wow, they have really found a way to find their passions and turn this into their careers.”
Youngest son, Jalen, is following in his siblings’ footsteps. “Even though he’s in school, he has figured out a way to get paid for doing what he loves, which is fun,” says Mom. “So, I love seeing people of any age saying, ‘I’m going to go out, I’m going to find something I love to do, and I’m going to figure out a way that I can turn this into a job that I’m getting paid for, but I’m still doing what I love.’”
That’s where she is now. She takes part in Chicago meetups several times a week (where she is “more of a turner than a jumper these days,” she admits. “I’m trying to build my arms up… I was never the best jumper on the block…”). Overseeing the club’s expansion has become almost a full-time, but currently unpaid, thing. But Robinson has open hands about the future.
“I don’t want to put any limitations on God’s plan, because I didn’t envision it going to where it is right now,” she says. “When I started it, I just thought this was a way for me to get a break from adulting, from the issues that I was having… I was trying to find a happy place.
“I had no idea that it was going to fill a void for so many other women all around the world and that it was going to grow the way it has. I’m just hoping that it reaches the masses in whatever way it needs to, because there are so many women who have told me that this group has saved their lives.”
From an interview with Louis Carr
This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of WayMaker Journal.