Toni Blake-Gonzalez might not have gone to college if she hadn’t been roped into it.
Blake-Gonzalez, 32, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Florida’s Keiser University on a partial jump-rope scholarship.
She learned the sport at her community recreational center as a 12-year-old. Now she’s paying it forward by teaching kids to jump rope at recreational centers in Charlotte.
In September, Blake-Gonzalez began classes at Elon, Naomi Drenan, and Bette Rae Thomas recreational centers and the Sandra & Leon Jewish Community Center.
This month, she extended the opportunity to the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center in northeast Charlotte. Blake-Gonzalez lives in the area’s Glen View neighborhood.
Inside the rec center, people poked their heads in the front room to find the source of the giggles, the swishing, and the slapping of five beaded ropes from the five girls who signed up for the first class.
Some came for the fun.
“I jump rope at home and at school,” said Lauren Gordon, 11, who attends Irwin Academic Center in Charlotte. “It’s fun.”
Others came to improve their skills.
“I’m a single jumper. At school, we have a competition to see who can last the longest,” said Angel Carrington 12, a seventh-grader at Ridge Road Middle School. “I come in second.”
Blake-Gonzalez ran the girls through warm-ups, let them single jump for a while, then pulled out two long ropes and, with the help of another turner, soon had them churning in an eggbeater motion known as double Dutch.
The girls stared with gaping mouths at the swirling ropes.
“It’s intimidating,” Blake-Gonzalez acknowledged. “I remember the first day I walked out into that gym and saw the ropes going. One rope is OK, but to go into two ropes?” she said. “That first year I did not get in the rope once.”
There was a time when jump roping was thought of as just a sidewalk activity, mainly enjoyed by girls who borrowed their mothers’ old clothesline ropes. But over the years, it has emerged with a more competitive edge.
“People think, ‘Oh, jumping is for the schoolyard,’ ” said Blake-Gonzalez. “But jump rope has evolved so much that’s it’s not what it used to be.”
Today, skipping rope can lead to scholarship money and the chance of national and world titles. Each year, governing bodies like USA Jump Rope and the National Double Dutch League hold championships in speed, compulsory and free-style categories.
As a teen, Blake-Gonzalez ranked fifth nationally as a double Dutch jumper.
Last year she launched Jump X-treme in Charlotte, a company to promote the virtues of the sport.
Since then, basketball coaches have regularly sought her out to create conditioning programs for their teams. The six-week workouts she designs include avoiding swinging ropes while performing push-ups and leg squats. All of the exercises, said Blake-Gonzalez, build their endurance, speed and strength on the court.
Last year she offered JUMP, a free program for minority kids to take jump rope classes through Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation.
Not only has it worked at getting more kids off the couches and computers for a little healthy fun but it also fostered the discipline, confidence and pride that comes from accomplishment.
“Hopefully it will help them with other things in their lives. Maybe they’ll keep moving on with it,” said Blake-Gonzalez.
“I know it’s better than doing nothing.”
Blake-Gonzalez hopes the rec center classes will eventually grow large enough for a jump-off competition between teams.
It takes time, she said, but she already sees encouraging signs it will happen soon. The rec center classes that began in September started with just a few, but have already swelled to more than a dozen jumpers.
“They give me a little room until I get 18 jumpers. Then I can have the gym,” she said of the rec centers’ policies. “I usually end up the gym.”