Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Jump-Roping and Gender

I remember a day in third-grade gym class. Our gym teacher, Mr. Banks, set up stations with different activities. One of these stations featured several jump ropes. I saw a couple of girls playing with them, and (probably in a futile attempt to rock some 8-year-old swag) I went over there and grabbed a jump rope myself.

I looked at the jump rope quizzically, the way a zoologist might look at a new species of snake. Before I knew it, Mr. Banks came over and steered me away.

"You don't want to play with that," he said. "It's for the girls. Why don't you go over to the pull-up bars?"

That was my entire life experience with jumping rope until last month, when I was taking a Boot Camp class at the gym. In this particular class we were required, among many other ass-whooping activities, to jump rope 100 times.

This, of course, was traumatic for me, not having ever successfully jumped rope. The big mistake I made was failing to realize that you're not really "jumping." You're only supposed to hop high enough off the ground so that the rope can skip underneath your feet. For me, this is very counterintuitive. When I jump, I don't cheat myself -- it's like I'm trying to leap out of the building. And so I'm jumping as high as I can and it's only a matter of time before I land awkwardly and feel a serious twinge of pain in my calf muscle. I've pulled my calf and I spend the rest of class doing the various exercises while limping around the gym.

Several days of ice and aspirin ensue, and the calf muscle gradually feels better -- until the end of the week, when I hop on the treadmill and after about 10 minutes of running tweak the calf muscle again. More ice. More aspirin. Feeling better and then the following week I'm doing box jumps at Boot Camp and again I feel that twinge in my calf.

He's probably retired now, maybe he's even passed on, but I'm pissed at Mr. Banks. I'm not saying I would've become a jump-roping legend -- I may have decided jumping rope wasn't for me, regardless of what he said. But, looking back on it, I can't believe a teacher would propagate those kind of stereotypes. And it clearly steered me away from jump roping, which, years later, came back to bite me in the ass (or, I suppose, calf).

I'm also pissed off at myself. Because nothing Mr. Banks said should've made me averse to jump-roping. Even when I was 8, I had that "question authority" mentality clearly ingrained in my head, and I should've asked myself, "Why?" It's a big part of training in the boxing circuit. And I shouldn't avoid something just because someone labels it as "for the girls." I practice yoga fairly regularly, and after some initial awkward feelings on my part I've become very comfortable taking classes even though I'm usually the only male in the class. Part of me feels like, by letting Mr. Banks talk me out of trying to jump rope, I contributed to sexism in society, and that makes me mad at myself.

This past week was the first in about a month in which my calf was 100% twinge-free. I was able to go to Boot Camp and jump on the treadmill without any trepidation. I'm going to be careful when jumping rope, I've gotten a lot better at it but it's still an exercise that I need to take slow. Jumping rope is clearly great exercise for anyone of any gender, no matter what Mr. Banks believes.

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