Jumpin’ in Juneau

by Larry A. Hiller

Assistant Managing Editor

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    Whether jumping in a glacial lake or just jumping rope, these Alaskan teens take on life without skipping a beat.

    The glacier glows from deep within, pulling scarce light from a gray day and turning it an eerie blue. Mostly, the glacier is dirty white. But from parts of the vertical face comes faint, cold blue fire. “Ice blue” is a real color.

    At the glacier’s foot a shallow lake of ice melt is dotted with an occasional miniature iceberg. A stream of glacial water tumbles into the lake with a distant, dull rumble. It’s the only sound you hear until—

    Jump in the Lake

    Splash! “Whoop!” Someone has just jumped into the lake. Or fallen. Or been pulled. Youth of the Juneau Alaska District are holding their annual games on the sandy shore. Relays rage back and forth across a shallow inlet. Put on hip boots, wade-run through thigh-high ice water, take off the boots and hand them to a teammate for the return trip. Splash! Someone else has tried to run too fast. Again, a sharp intake of breath and “whoop!”

    Soon, a stout rope is drawn across the same inlet and the teams take sides, muscles straining, heels dug into the sand. Rhythmic chants of “pull … pull … pull” echo across the lake. Inch by inch the losing team is drawn toward the incredibly cold water.

    Incredibly, too, some of the youth who didn’t get wet in the relay or tug-of-war give berserk yells and wade into the bone-chilling water for the sheer daring of it. Afterward, when everyone has dried off and is back at the chapel warming up, the kids explain. It’s not insanity, just enthusiasm.

    Bear Facts

    Juneau is Alaska’s capital, beautiful and interesting but a challenging place to live. There are no highways to other major cities. To get to the rest of Alaska—and the rest of the world—you either fly or you load the family car on a ferry boat. Both are expensive, so you try to find most of your fun close to home—like the Mendenhall Glacier just a few minutes from town.

    Close to home there’s plenty of cold and snow in winter, lots of clouds and rain the rest of the time—more than 100 inches of precipitation a year. So, the young women just plan their camps by the calendar, not by the weather forecasts. If you let the probability of rain stop you, next thing you know, you could start worrying about the possibility of bears. Instead, you take along rain gear and a few armed priesthood brethren. And you go enjoy camp.

    School football and soccer games are rarely canceled for rain. Baseball is often played under conditions that would be a “rain-out” in the lower 48 states. In a climate like this, trees grow tall, roofs grow moss, and these LDS kids have grown an attitude that seems to say, “No matter where you live—live. Jump into life with both feet.”

    Get a Rope

    No, the rope’s not for the weatherman. We’re still on the subject of jumping. Carly Perkins and Shannon Orme are members of the Juneau Jumpers, one of the largest rope jumping teams in the world. “It’s about the only thing we can do that’s indoors and doesn’t cost much,” explains Carly. “And since it’s always raining, it’s something to pass the time.”

    But what a way to pass the time! According to Shannon, 10 minutes of rope jumping equals about 20 minutes of jogging. “If we didn’t keep the Word of Wisdom, we really wouldn’t we able to do this,” she adds. Qualifying for the “double unders”—two passes of the rope on each jump—requires doing 200 in a row without a mistake. Then there are the “quadruple unders” … !

    Add complicated routines with multiple ropes and jumpers, and you can see that competition rope jumping is as different from the schoolyard variety of rope jumping as the Monte Carlo Grand Prix is from driving school. So who teaches all of this? Sure, there are adult coaches, but it’s the team members themselves who train new candidates for the team and literally teach each other the ropes. You work with another team member to qualify for new routines. “Even freestyle, we have to do it with someone else so they learn it too,” Shannon says. “You learn to get along with pretty much everybody,” adds Carly. There’s no “king-of-the-hill” mentality on this team. You only progress and go on the road trips by being willing to help others reach your own level of accomplishment.

    Pull Someone Up

    That’s a lot like the attitude you find among the LDS youth of Juneau, Alaska. For example, at the lake and at the chapel afterward was a fellow student who was being friendshipped by some of the LDS kids. Having seen them in action, she announced that she was ready to talk to the missionaries. You know that when she does talk to the missionaries, she’s going to have a big team backing her up and teaching her the ropes. Around here, they don’t just jump into life with both feet. They like to take a friend along.

    Sometimes the world can seem like a pretty cold place. But LDS kids in Juneau have learned that if you jump in with both feet—and help someone else do the same—life can be great no matter where you live.

    Photography by Jed Clark

    Shannon Orme (left) and Carly Perkins take advantage of a break in the rain to demonstrate their sport outdoors. Their team, the Juneau Jumpers, is one of the world’s largest.

    Juneau’s a beautiful place, but if you let the damp weather bother you, you might stay indoors most of the time and miss that beauty. You’d also miss a lot of fun.

    It takes more than an icy lake to dampen the spirits of this group. Tug-of-war, madcap relays, and plain old headlong dashes into the bone-chilling water are all part of the enjoyment.

    Complicated routines require fancy footwork and fine-tuned teamwork—along with top physical condition. This isn’t the rope jumping most of us remember from our grade school days.

    Jumping joyously into life and taking along a friend—it’s a great attitude to have in Juneau or anywhere.