The Old Man & the Jump Rope

It seems simple enough: Swing the rope over your head, push your feet off the ground; swing the rope under your toes and past your heels. Repeat. All across the globe, there are playgrounds full of 7-year-old girls who make it look effortless.

That’s not how it looks when I do it.

When I started jumping rope back in September, I would thrust myself about 10 inches off the ground to make sure I cleared the incoming clothesline. I could get two — maybe three — successful jumps in before the rope smacked me in the back of the head. Or snagged on the tips of my toes. Or I stepped on it and almost tripped myself.

It was pathetic. It was ridiculous. To quote the venerable English bard Noel Gallagher, I was like a man with a fork in a world of soup.

Jumping rope is the mother of boxing. Running is the father.

Vanes Martirosyan, Olympian and former junior middleweight champ

You remember the Rocky training montage? It was the opposite of that.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, my first attempt to jump rope took place at a packed boxing gym in Hollywood, California, where world champions train. One of the finest boxing trainers on the planet, Freddie Roach, saw me make an ass of myself. Never mind all the serious fighters who were present that day — and for whom jumping rope is second nature.

Luckily, I’m beyond embarrassment. Why else would I be jumping rope in my forties?

It’s a question I ask myself all the time.

The day after that first attempt, my legs were so sore I could barely walk. I spent most of the next 48 hours contemplating my poor decision-making skills and seemingly bottomless appetite for self-punishment. Then I picked up the rope again.

Have you ever seen a man in his forties jump rope? I’m not talking about 41-year-old super welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao or one of these guys in the World Jump Rope Federation — an actual sports organization, somehow subject to anti-doping regulations — who make jumping rope look like child’s play. (Which, technically, it is.) I’m talking about a guy who started jumping rope in his forties.

Despite my laughable debut, I kept at it. A couple of weeks in, I was still so inept that I actually sprained my ankle while jumping rope. It happened at the same Hollywood boxing gym, in front of some of the same stone-faced pugilists.

I think Pacquiao was actually there that day. His jump rope skills? Like silk on glass. Like a hot knife through butter. Mine? More like nails on a chalkboard.

Who started me down this dubious path? Vanes Martirosyan, member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing team and former junior middleweight champ. I started training with him in September. The first thing he did was hand me a jump rope. “Jumping rope is the mother of boxing,” he explains. “Running is the father. You have to run every day. You have to jump rope every day. That’s where you start.”

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The author and the champ.

Martirosyan says the better you are at jumping rope, the better chance you have of being a good boxer. “A flat-footed guy that keeps landing on his heels [when jumping rope] is gonna be a flat-footed fighter,” he ventures. “That’s why Ali was so great — he was always on his toes. He used to jump rope all the time. He used to dance in the ring — ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ — that was his thing.”

He then references MMA superstar Conor McGregor. McGregor, recent sexual assault allegations and other legal troubles aside, notched a now-famous 13-second KO of José Aldo for the UFC featherweight title in 2015.

“McGregor taking a step back and then coming in with the left hook was all about timing,” he points out. “It’s the same with the rope. You can’t be thinking about something else when you’re jumping rope or it’s gonna hit you in the head.”

From Ali to McGregor to one of the fight world’s undisputed jump rope kings, Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Mayweather jumps rope like crazy,” Vanes says. “All the guys who are good at jumping rope are good with their feet. They’re the best fighters in the world.”

If Mayweather’s jump-rope abilities bear any correlation whatsoever to his 50-0 record in the ring, it’s easy to understand how he retired undefeated. Forget all these lame superhero flicks clogging the multiplex: If you wanna see some real superhero moves, save your hard-earned cash and watch a video clip of Mayweather jumping rope. It is, in a word, un-fucking-real.

Again, the opposite of me.

“Flat-footed. Off-balance. A little stiff.” That’s how Martirosyan diplomatically describes my first crack at the rope. “It’s always frustrating at first,” he adds, “but you’ll get it.”

I’m a lot better these days. Nobody’s gonna confuse me with a pro, but I can jump rope somewhat respectably. I still hit myself in the back of the head and snag the rope on my toes, but I spend much more time jumping rope successfully. I’m even working on some “tricks” — basic ones, anyway. Which means there’s probably another sprained ankle somewhere in my future.

But when I heal up? I’m going to give those 7-year-olds a run for their money.