By Joanne McDonald
Sydney Nicholls lives life at double and even triple speed.
A Canadian national jump rope champion, her skill and speed have placed her on the international podium and she is helping to put the demanding sport on the Olympic radar.
And best of all, she is the nicest teen you could ever meet.
Last fall in China, Sydney placed an impressive 3rd overall in a very competitive field of global athletes. A member of the dynamic Lincoln Leapers, the 13-year-old Grimsby resident was one of 10 selected to represent Canada at the International Jump Rope Competition (Rope Skipping China Open 2019) in Beijing.
She competed in three masters (individual) events including 30-second speed, three-minute speed and single rope freestyle – that is when she wasn’t doing jump rope tricks along the Great Wall of China.
It was quite the adventure and an opportunity Sydney says she wouldn’t have had without her dedicated coaches, the community, the Leapers and “my amazing parents.”
Sitting at the kitchen table with her parents Tim and Deb Nicholls, Sydney’s focus is now on qualifying for the 2020 International Jump Rope Union (IJRU) World Championships this July in Ottawa. It’s the newly-merged IJRU’s first global championship event and they can’t wait to welcome the entire jump rope world to Canada.
It’s a very exciting time for the sport and Canada has a lot to look forward to watching this young athlete perform.
“I credit Sydney’s ability to get to this level with her perseverance and determination and a belief in herself. She has a laser focus,” says Tim, speaking both as her dad and team manager and conditioning coach for the Lincoln Leapers. “She can be surrounded by judges, 10 at each table and maintain her centre. “She has that level of confidence, strength and concentration.”
Sydney also has a grace and poise that belies her 13 years. And she is grounded in humility – one of her strong personality traits.
“The best part is how humble she is. She takes her accomplishments in stride and is proud of all her team mates,” says Deb. “That is what is so nice about Sydney’s personality. She truly cares about other people.” And, “she never skips a practice.”
Sydney is already a veteran of numerous national and international competitions and it’s been heartwarming for Deb to see her daughter trading national pins with athletes from other countries.“ She has made beautiful friendships around the world.”
LOVE AT FIRST SKIP
Skipping, jumping and turning the ropes since the age of six, it was curiosity and the prompting of lifelong friend Hannah Miller that first brought Sydney to the athletic sport when she joined the Lincoln Leapers.
“After that first night, I knew I wanted to skip,” Sydney said. It was creative and wide open and she loved learning new tricks.
Quickly moving through the initial three levels, she was invited to try out, and qualified that first year to go to the national competition in Vancouver.
“It was really hard the first year. I went straight from Little Leapers, all fun, straight into competition. I had to pick up what to do pretty fast as it was a national competition,” said Sydney. “The coaches gave me lots of motivational pep talks and were always encouraging.”
A Grade 8 student at Central French Immersion Public School in Grimsby, Sydney was part of the first year pilot to introduce French immersion when she started Grade 1 and will graduate with the inaugural class before heading to Grimsby Secondary School.
A well rounded athlete, Sydney plays volleyball and also finds time for track and field and cross country. A straight A student, she gets home from workouts, does her homework, no moaning or groaning.
“She juggles her responsibilities well and has great time management skills,” says Deb. “She has had the same friends for years, a wonderful group of friends, many of them together since preschool.”
Physical fitness is in the genes for this family – cycling, hiking, power walking.
So too is the strong family bond to being there for each other.
Sydney did competitive gymnastics for five years, training at Aspire Gymnastics in Grimsby. She still goes to Aspire for tumbling and skips three times a week at Blessed Trinity Secondary School and Smithville Public School.
“My Mom and Dad have always supported me through the ups and downs, the physical wear and tear, day to day to practises, the emotional roller coaster, and the absolute excitement when it all pays off,” Sydney said.
Sydney has brought home some serious hardware from the growing list of national and international competitions.
Nationally she won first overall for females 13-14 at the 2019 Rope Skipping Canada National Championships in Olds, Alberta. Her very first competition she earned 14th overall in the 8-9 and under division in Vancouver; the second year in Halifax brought 2nd overall, 10 and under; the third year, a 1st overall in 10 and under in Olds, Alberta; 2nd overall, 11-12 year in Kingston; and 2nd overall, 11-12 in Windsor.
Internationally, Sydney earned 3rd overall at the 2019 China Open; 11th overall in the 14 and under at the 2019 World Jump Rope Championships in Oslo, Norway, (Sydney and Leaper team mate Sofia Stadler both placed 4th in their masters freestyle divisions); and 6th overall in the 11-12 year category at the 2018 international
competitions in Orlando, Florida. (The Lincoln Leaper team got second in the double Dutch speed event.)
Now, “it’s my dream to be on the Canadian national team and compete at the Olympics,” says Sydney.
Sydney was one of only two athletes from Ontario, including world champion Eilea Given and four athletes from British Columbia to compete in the China Open.
Their arrival coincided with the country’s celebration of its 70th year of communism. “It was amazing. Everybody was nice, and helpful, ready to give directions and help out,” said Sydney. She survived mainly on white rice and touring the sights there were many curious cameras pointed in her direction.
It was a big change with the time difference and they had to compete two days after landing. It was an outdoor venue for the international competition and they learned just the night before competitions started they would have to use jump ropes provided by the Chinese and had no opportunity to practise.
“I just tried to go with it,” Sydney said.
For Eilea it was also an exciting adventure and her spectacular photos of Sydney will be a treasured memory.
“Sydney and I were training partners, we met at least once a week to train together. We were the only two athletes from Ontario who competed in China. She is 13 and I am 30, and we both had an excellent season in 2019,” Eilea said.
A member of the ‘Thirty No Hurty’ team in Fonthill and multiple gold medalist, Eilea put up the fastest score ever recorded at the World Jump Rope Championships in the female 30+ category in 2019 in Oslo, Norway.
“Sydney gives me the benefit of her energy, and I (try to) give her the benefit of my experience in the sport. She is certainly not afraid of hard work, and matches me stride for stride in our training. It has been such a beautiful and wonderful privilege to get to watch her develop into the athlete she is now and is yet becoming. Canada has a lot to look forward to in watching this athlete perform.”
It would be hard to count the hours and commitment Tim brings to supporting the Leapers. His positive enthusiasm sets the stage for success.
“The relationship between the older jumpers and younger jumpers is unprecedented. That mentorship is so positive. They help each other and encourage each other,” says Tim.
“While Sydney was in Vancouver, it was almost like an entourage. They took care of her, encouraged her, kept her calm and gave her confidence, as they do with all the young ones,” Tim said. “This is what we love about this sport.”
Watching the Lincoln Leapers practise in the gym at Blessed Trinity Secondary School is more than motivational. Positivity and enthusiasm come natural it seems to the organizers and coaches.
The Leapers work hard and have a lot of fun.
“We’re a family, everyone supports everyone,” says Lincoln Leaper President Cheryl Giannini. From jumping to turning the ropes, “everyone brings their own skill set. Success is the sum of all parts.”
Cheryl credits the skill and commitment of head coach Becca
Simpson as a big part of Leaper success. The days are packed with a weekly program that includes: Monday team practice; Tuesday, conditioning and performance team; Wednesday, program and pre-competition practice; and Thursday team practice.
“The older kids help the younger ones to grow in the sport. You can’t pay for this kind of mentorship,” Cheryl said. “It’s so much fun to watch them grow.”
At present, the Lincoln Leapers have 27 competitive jumpers, ages 8-18, competing locally and internationally. There are 20 pre-competitive jumpers and about 80 Little Leapers, recreational jumpers learning to skip. Renowned for their performances, the Leapers have enraptured audiences at five Raptor half-time shows in Toronto.
Former Lincoln Leaper head coach, Carly Simpson is now Canadian rep for the IJRU.
Cherylsaid Carly has been instrumental in the Leaper program and in helping Jump Rope Canada get to international status.
They are all looking forward to the first IJRU world competition this July in Ottawa. “This is a huge coup for us to grow the sport.”
“Carly is working with American counterpart Chris Brown to develop the judging rule book,” Cheryl said.
“I’ve known Becca and Carly since I started and they’re just really good coaches,” said Sydney. “They have taught me so much and I always have fun.”
“It’s a very exciting time in the sport,” says Tim. “Everything is changing from the club level to the international level, rules that kids jump under, some events are changing, all judges must be trained, all go through a rigorous training process to know what they are judging and training.”
The thrill however remains the same – watching people’s jaws drop when they watch the Leapers perform.
“Canada has a lot of work to get jump rope recognized as a sport and to make sure, when the Olympics occur, we will be there with a national team,” Tim said.
The Lincoln Leapers jump rope team is a non-profit association that was established in 1982 as a small elementary school club. It was the first competitive jump rope team in Canada and has grown into one of the largest and most decorated teams, holding provincial, national, and world titles. The Leapers draw from Grimsby, St. Catharines, Smithville, all of West Niagara to St. Catharines.
“We’re constantly fundraising in order to get our coaches to provincial, national and international events.”
“Any time we go out for sponsorships, we are always amazed at how generous the community is,” Tim said. “We’ve received amazing amounts from the Legions, Beamsville and Grimsby. The Winona Men’s Club routinely gives a great contribution every year.”
For more information, visit the website: www.lincolnleapers.com.