Stephanie Harshman whips the white-wire jump rope around as fast as she can, creating the blurry outline of a full revolution and generating the high-pitched howl of a large gust of wind. It's the double-under, a move that explains itself: two revolutions before her feet hit the floor.
Up the stairs and down a long hallway inside of Baltimore's MV Fitness, the gym where Stephanie trains and works as a personal trainer, is a dance studio where she tries another move: the burpee double-under. She does two revolutions with the green-and-white beaded rope, then falls to the glossy vinyl floor and gets back up, then does one more.
"Whew, I'm winded," she says, breathing heavily and fighting off a cough. "I haven't done these" in a few weeks.
Stephanie, 25, worked on these two moves, along with the long-rope push-up, for weeks before she competed in the Arnold-America Jump Rope Competition from Feb. 27 to March 2. Her training paid off, as she won three gold medals and broke two world records at the annual competition in Columbus, Ohio.
Harshman, of Mount Vernon, competed in the three speed events, scored by doubling the revolutions in a 60-second segment. After posting a 252 in the double-under to win gold, Stephanie broke world records in the burpee double-under (54) and the push-up pop (127).
"I didn't really know what to expect because I had never competed in the [Arnold-America competition]. I went in blindly," Stephanie says. "It's nice to know that I'm still competitive against other athletes [at age 25]. I haven't outgrown [jump-roping] yet, and that's a good feeling."
Growing up in Brunswick, a town that sits on the Potomac River in Frederick County, Stephanie was familiar with jump-roping from an early age. When local physical education teacher Neil Keller in 1986 started the Skip Wizards, a prominent jump-rope group, competitive jump-roping spread throughout town. The Skip Wizards became so popular that they started performing in the annual Veterans Day parade in Brunswick.
The team was "something that everybody was familiar with" because of the parade, Stephanie's mother, Karen, says. "In fact, it got to the point where I would forget when we'd go out into the community and do a routine. You'd always hear people exclaiming: 'Did you see what that kid just did?' "
It has been 16 years since Stephanie got hooked on jump-roping, but she said she'll always remember how the Skip Wizards first piqued her interest.
"We were at my brother's baseball game and [a Skip Wizards member] was jumping on the sidewalk, just doing something really simple," Stephanie recalls. "I walked up to her and said, 'That's so cool. Where did you learn that?' She said: 'I'm on [the Skip Wizards] and here's where we practice. You should come by.' "
Stephanie came by and made an immediate impression. The Skip Wizards didn't even ask her to try out, and she joined the team, competing within weeks of starting.
The Skip Wizards travel all over the country, performing in competitions sponsored by World Jump Rope, USA Jump Rope and the Amateur Athletic Union. In January, one former Skip Wizards member and jump-rope world champion, Tori Boggs, even appeared on "Ellen."
Gwen Trice, head coach of the Skip Wizards, has worked with Stephanie since her start in jump-roping.
"There are elements and tasks that you need to learn and do to be in the Skip Wizards, and she was determined to get through those quickly," Trice says. "She's definitely a natural athlete, and with her competitive nature, she was really able to shine at jump rope."
After years of competing for the Skip Wizards, Stephanie attended Towson University. She quickly found out that Towson was not like her hometown and that many students had not encountered a competitive jump-roper.
"People [at Towson] would ask me what I'm up to, and I say 'Oh, I'm going to jump rope for a while.' And they ask, 'What do you mean?' " she remembers. "Ever since my freshman year, I've come up with this quick spiel that's like, 'I'm a competitive jump-roper and there's a lot of different events and I have to go as fast as I can go and I also have to perform in front of judges, like a gymnastics routine' … and I rattle everything off."
Stephanie battled through a broken hand and a bout with appendicitis during college, but she kept jumping. She said she doubted whether she'd continue jump-roping, but in the end, she always signed up for more competitions.
Stephanie graduated from Towson in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in exercise science and moved into the city to work as a personal trainer. That way, she could continue to jump-rope and motivate others to do the same.
Trice said that Stephanie, at 25, is one of a few adult jump-ropers still competing in national competitions.
"You see these jumpers coming back older as assistant coaches and taking over teams," Trice says. "I'm just so proud of [Stephanie] and I am amazed that she's sticking with it. I am very impressed with how strong she did in the different events."
Earlier this year, Stephanie was working as a personal trainer at MV Fitness and as as fitness specialist at T. Rowe Price. Despite her work commitments, she decided to train for the Arnold-America Jump Rope Competition.
Ready to compete, Stephanie and her family set out on the six-hour road trip to Columbus, and as they neared Morgantown, W.Va., Karen Harshman heard a gasp in the back seat.
"What is wrong with you?" Karen asked.
"I forgot the ropes,'" Stephanie said.
"You've been doing this for 15 years. What do you mean you forgot your ropes?" Karen answered.
The white-wire rope, sized to fit Harshman, had black, rubber-gripped handles made especially for her. Those handles, Harshman said, are not being made anymore.
When they arrived in Columbus, Stephanie had to buy a new rope, but she worried that she wouldn't find one like the one she'd left behind. But she found a friend at the competition who was selling the new and old types of wire ropes to jumpers, like Stephanie, who "knew the difference."
Stephanie bought the older wire rope. Even better, the rope was purple, her favorite color. She practiced with the rope and the rest was history.