Kaylee Couvillion jumps rope — for a living.
That's right, the Baton Rouge native actually brings home a paycheck for jumping rope, or at least for using her award-winning skills to teach others.
When the Baton Rouge native is not competing or doing doctoral work at the University of Tennessee, Couvillion has helped start a business, Learnin’ the Ropes, that teaches jump rope in East Tennessee and Seattle, Washington.
There aren’t many businesses like it, the 28-year-old said.
That comes as no surprise, least of all to Couvillion, who has enough trouble getting people to believe jump rope is a sport.
“Some people, when I say, ‘I jump rope,’ they’re like, ‘You what?’” she said. “Nobody knows what it really is.”
But, let's be clear. This is no ordinary jump roping like you might see on the playground.
This is extreme jump roping — sometimes with acrobatic leaps, sometimes passing the rope beneath outstretched bodies just an inch or so off the floor. Gymnastic moves are common, so body control and endurance are important to compete at a high level, Couvillion said.
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“You cannot compete at a high level without muscular power and core strength, just to control your body while you’re jumping in the air trying to manipulate the rope,” she said.
Couvillion was introduced to the sport at Parkview Baptist School, which had a competitive team. She tried out for the team in second grade and joined the team the next year. It just looked fun, she said.
“I remember as a third-grader just wanting to compete in something, and I had seen gymnastics competitions, but I did not gravitate toward that,” Couvillion said. “Then, it was the idea that you had the opportunity to do team things and individual things, so I could be as creative as I wanted.
“It is a well-rounded sport. It does involve grueling work, but it also involves that creativity aspect that balances it out.”
Although there are no high school or collegiate competitions, the United States Amateur Jump Rope Federation provides age-level opportunities, and Couvillion started competing nationally in 2000 when she was 10. She began competing internationally in 2011 and has won individual or team world championships in all but one of the past seven years.
Along the way, she got to know Nick Woodard, of Houston, at a summer jump rope camp in 2000. They were friends, competitors and sometimes teammates until 2013, when she traveled to Seattle to staff a camp he was leading.
“He picked me up from the airport, and I don’t know what happened, but it all of a sudden, (it) just clicked, and we were, like, this could be something,” Couvillion said.
They maintained a long-distance relationship as Couvillion, a 2013 LSU graduate in kinesiology, earned a master’s degree in exercise science at the University of South Florida. Last year, both moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he pursues a master’s degree and Couvillion works on her doctorate in motor behavior and sports psychology. They’ve set a Dec. 29 wedding date.
They started Learnin’ the Ropes as a way to teach the fundamentals of jump rope in recreation centers in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Seattle, where Woodard has contacts. It is working as a business because Couvillion and Woodard train instructors, so they can reach more potential students. A Baton Rouge franchise may be coming, Couvillion said.
Although Couvillion plans to become a professor and Woodard’s goal is to own his own gym, they expect to continue Learnin’ the Ropes.
“God’s used jump rope in my life in really powerful ways,” Couvillion said. “I used to be the shyest little girl you ever met, and now it’s the complete opposite. A million different things that I could tell you how my life has been changed through the sport, and that’s what we want to do with Learnin' the Ropes, just share that experience and help other kids gain those benefits as well.”