Coming to a large campus like Carolina, after growing up in “the middle of nowhere,” was a bit of a shock for Sarah Paschal. Her first-year intro to biology course alone had more students in it than her entire high school did.
“It was quite the experience,” she says. “It was definitely a bit overwhelming to come to such a big area like this. But it was also kind of nice because I was breaking out of my comfort zone. It was something I had never experienced before.”
Though acclimating to such a different environment was a daunting task, a trip to Woollen Gym for an open Carolina Jump Rope practice helped Paschal find her place on campus and make Chapel Hill home.
“It’s great that UNC has all these clubs and all these things that you can go out and try. I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll just go try it out.’ After a couple of weeks, I was hooked, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says. “Although UNC is absolutely huge and bit overwhelming, this is one of the things that has helped it feel a bit smaller and comfortable to me.”
Now a rising junior and the communications chair of the club, Paschal has spent the past two years training and performing with dozens of other Tar Heels. The group competes against other universities and jump rope clubs from around the country and dazzles crowds with spins and flips.
When she first saw the skill of the club members, Paschal was captivated and dove right in.
“The extent of my jump rope experience prior to coming to UNC was Jump Rope for Heart in elementary school and jumping on the playground,” says Paschal, who is majoring in statistics and analytics and computer science in the College of Arts & Sciences. “I was immediately blown away because I was not entirely sure how in the world they were manipulating these ropes to do all these tricks and fancy things. It was absolutely insane to see what they could do.”
Paschal trained with the group, practicing in-person two times a week during her first several months with the club. Having been a dancer for most of her childhood, she picked up the skills quickly, and the more experienced club members brought her up to speed for solo performances and double-Dutch routines.
“Jump rope is all about progression,” Paschal says. “There are constantly new skills you can learn and new ways you can improve. … It was definitely challenging, having never done this before, but I wasn’t the only person in that boat. The people who have been doing this for most of their lives were so willing to help all the time.”
Before long, Paschal began performing with the club around campus and at its annual Jump Rope Summit — a national competition held at Carolina in the spring. In competition, the jumpers compete in speed and freestyle routines, which include solo and double-Dutch.
It was the performances — and the lead-up of creating and practicing the routine with teammates — that Paschal enjoyed the most.
“I absolutely loved it,” she says. “Being able to go out there in front of these people who really have no idea what kind of jump rope we actually do and show them what we’re able to do is so fun. The crowd is always so engaged and entertained. It’s a great feeling.”
Though the pandemic put a pause on the performances and competitions, Paschal and Carolina Jump Rope have continued to train and stay connected. They conducted their practices over Zoom and safely off-campus when they could in the fall and returned to in-person practice this spring.
“Doing college in your childhood bedroom definitely is not the ideal situation,” she says. “Jump rope was one of those things that got me up, got me active and gave me that social opportunity to be able to talk and see my friends.”
With the fall semester around the corner, Paschal is eager to get back to more in-person practices, performances, competitions and “all the things that make us a team.”
“It’s so nice to have the opportunity twice a week to just escape from the academic aspect of being at college,” she says. “It’s really easy to get caught up in things you have to do and not things that you just want to do for fun. It’s one of those things that I can always look forward to during the week, where I can just let loose and go get some exercise and socialize with my friends.”