As American kids return to school, many will have exciting stories to share with their classmates about what they did during their summer vacations. Some will be talking about adventures in Africa, riding elephants and jumping rope. These are the Kangaroo Kids, who participated in the jump rope World Championship in South Africa.
Kangaroo Kids is a group of 150 jumpers in a Washington D.C. suburb. Thirteen members of the group qualified to participate in this year's tournament in South Africa, as part of the United States team.
"We've been going to the world championship since 1999," Kangaroo Kids coach Jim McCLeary says. "The competition gets harder and harder every year. The sport is getting more and more sophisticated."
The International Rope Skipping Federation's competition, know as the Worlds, is held every other year in a different location around the globe.
"The tournament went very well," McCleary says. "There were 19 countries competing from all over the world. And all 13 Kangaroo Kids that went to the tournament earned a medal of some type in the competition."
Jumpers competed in a variety of categories, using both a single rope and two ropes - what's known as Double Dutch. They included speed jumping as well as the more artistic freestyle competition.
Ninth grader Natalie Fieretto and her partner Eddie Yacynych won the Gold Medal in the pairs single rope freestyle routine. "We were so happy to be at that big of a tournament and to win gold," Fieretto says. "It was just amazing."
But winning the Gold Medal was just one of the highlights of her trip.
"Going on the safari was my favorite part," Fieretto says. "We got to see all the animals. We got to ride an elephant. For the competition, we got to see different styles of jumping from each country." She says the friends she made at the Worlds competition are friends she'll have for a lifetime.
While in South Africa, the Kangaroo Kids also participated in several outreach workshops. Jumpers taught jump rope skills to South African students at two schools and an orphanage.
"They put on a dancing performance for us and then, we did a show for them," Fieretto says. "Then, we put some ropes out – some double Dutch and some single ropes – and taught them how to do things."
While most jumpers were accompanied by a family member, some brought along their whole family. According to Robin Madden, whose son Eli won a Bronze Medal in the competition, the trip was a great opportunity for these families to bond and show support for the jumpers.
"You know, he's a teenager," she says. "I'm not sure most teenagers realize that their family is supporting them as much as their country and their friends and everyone else [is]. But, I think when we got there, he realized how special it was that his whole family was with him.
Madden says the Worlds was a lively gathering that went way beyond the usual tournament.
"The spirit of competition was there, but it was more a spirit of shared cooperation in a sport that everyone loved," she says. "The South African team (members) were outstanding hosts. They cheered for every nation there. Teams laughed together, partied together, stayed in the hotels together and really showed more sportsmanship than competition."
Madden says jump rope should be an Olympic sport. Coach Jim McCleary says Olympic recognition is the ultimate goal of the Kangaroo Kids and other jump rope clubs.
"We know that's going to take a long time, a lot of hard work, a lot of money, a lot of financial support from corporate sponsors and international sponsors," he says. "The first goal is to get 35 countries in six continents jumping all under the same rules. We had 19 countries in this (tournament), so we can see we're a little over halfway there."
Until they can get to the Olympics, Coach McLeary says, the Kangaroo Kids will continue to jump rope, develop new skills, participate in more events and – they hope – attract more boys and girls to the sport.