Skipping
By Randy Southerland

n the short film The Last Real Cowboys, Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Jones are two grizzled range riders somewhere in the West, sitting by a campfire, eating beans. Out of the blue one of them muses, “Why don’t we skip no more?’

That’s a question more and more people are starting to ask. The newest craze in exercise is really not new at all, but it’s something you probably haven’t done since you were eight. Unlike jogging and stepping, it’s more about reconnecting with your spirit than burning calories.
Across the country, full-grown adults have been spotted merrily—and publicly--skipping down jogging paths, city streets, and other locales generally reserved for serious runners, bikers, and power walkers.

Skipping is becoming a national phenomenon, if you believe San Francisco book publicist Kim Corbin who has made a career by leading a nationwide campaign to “out” closeted skippers everywhere. She has already garnered attention for her efforts with coverage on CNN and People Magazine. She has been widely pictured in the local and national press leading group skips over the Golden Gate Bridge dressed in a cape and crown and waving a wand. Trailing behind her by a skipping horde of kids and adults alike.

Her e-mail newsletter on skipping has more than 1,000 subscribers. Many of these skipping enthusiasts are featured on her web site – iskip.com – that covers virtually everything you ever wanted to know about skipping. Pages of pictures and testimonials of skippers are laced with stories about famous skippers, as well as with little known facts about the growing phenomenon.

Did you know, for example, that you could even plan a skipping wedding? Have you heard that Biblical scholars now theorize that two of the Bible’s “real men” – Kings David and Solomon – skipped frequently?

Atlanta writer Pattie Baker inadvertently took up skipping one cold November day while she was out for her morning walk – just because she wanted to get home faster. Inspired by Corbin, she now skips regularly with her children.

“It’s the protective walls we’ve been putting up,” Baker said. “In order to skip, you’ve got to break down those walls and not care what anyone thinks. So, when you do that, your spirit gets exercise, and that part of you becomes stronger. You cannot do it without feeling self-conscious the first few times.”

Baker says that she gets quite a few stares from passing motorists, but after a few months she’s become a familiar sight in her neighborhood.

“I spend a lot of time waving to the neighbors as they’re driving away,” she said. “That never happens when you’re jogging. They’re behind the wheel smirking at you, but it’s a nice way to get to know the neighbors.”

Corbin has also appointed “head skippers” in 46 cities. These skipping apostles are charged with leading group skips and in general spreading the word about the benefits of skipping to the public.

“I think the chord that it’s striking with people is that basically what we’re doing is promoting skipping as an outward expression of joy,” said Corbin from New York where she was getting ready to lead a group skip through Central Park. “We’ve been letting negativity dictate what we do for so long. Now there’s a group of people who are saying we’re going to skip. It’s visual and you can see it. It’s a free spirited thing.”

Yes, skipping down the street, arms flapping may not look very “adult”, but these skippers take what they’re doing very seriously.

First of all, feeling self-conscious probably keep many who might like to skip from doing so in public. That’s what the skipping gurus most want to change.

“It’s the protective walls we’ve been putting up,” Baker said. “In order to skip, you’ve got to break down those walls and not care what anyone thinks. So, when you do that, your spirit gets exercise, and that part of you becomes stronger.”
Some are convinced that the act of skipping in public gives them the courage to pursue other dreams. Baker, for example, decided to form a non-profit organization – Hattitudes – that donates hats to young girls undergoing cancer treatment. Along with the hat they also get a brochure promoting self-esteem by explaining how everyone wears various hats in life and that they are far more than just a cancer patient.

“It reminds the girls they’re an artist and an athlete, a sister and a scientist, and that although cancer is a big thing in their life it’s just part of who they are,” said Baker. “There are two things they can choose. One is their attitude and the second is this brand new free hat. That’s important because there are so many things at this time in their life that they can’t choose.”
The hats provide the girls with a form of positive energy like the kind Baker has found in skipping.

“We’ve gotten a lot of media coverage,” said Baker. “We’ve fulfilled the needs of Egleston AFLAC Cancer Center at Emory University (for hats). We’ve expanded the program to Scottish Rite and we’re about to expand it to Chicago, LA, and potentially New York as well.”
She says skipping can be a conduit to bringing passions to life for other people. It also provides a means for meeting like-minded who may want to change the world for the better or just change their own personal world.

“The skipping thing sounds so silly, but it has a powerful effect of showing that I’m really in charge of my own limits. If I can break through that I can achieve whatever I want to achieve.”
Other people also skip in order to raise money for favorite charities. Alpharetta, Ga. skipper Susan Reineck spent more than a week last April skipping 100 miles from Atlanta all the way to Ellijay in the North Georgia mountains to raise money for a local wildlife rehabilitation refuge.

“It’s just fun,” proclaimed Reineck. “It’s about the same pace as a walk, but you’re really using your lungs a lot more. So, I’m able to just sit back and enjoy the scenery while I do it.”
People – like Baker – skip with their children. Many say it’s a great form of exercise, but clearly it’s more than just about getting in shape.

Skipping is an activity appropriate for all ages. Just ask 67 year-old Laura Middleton Downing, a Boulder, Colorado skipper. She and her friends skip through the bustling Pearl Street Mall, and she’s even been spotted skipping through some local road races. She also leads a senior citizen group in skipping routines.

“We got all sorts of strange looks and smirks, but we also got some people to skip with us,” she said. “I’m finding that it does look kind of silly for adults to do it – especially for seniors. But, if people will do it they find it’s a lot of fun and it makes you feel good. “

This activity has to be catching on, if watching Billy Bob Thornton skipping on the screen is any indication. . After all, it’s all about self-expression.

“It’s a great metaphor for the evolution of the male--losing the (inner) child, and losing the freedom to truly express ourselves in all silly ways,” said Jeff Lester, who, along with his wife, actress Susan Anton, produced and directed The Last Real Cowboys. “We (have) become much more rigid and concerned about the way we’re coming off and the way we look. I just thought it was great to take a leap back and ask the question: where in history did that happen?”
Lester says the premise of the comic short film is simple. It’s about a cowboy in the 1800s who poses the question, “Why don’t we skip no more? You know like when we were kids – skipping. I used to love skipping.” The response from his befuddled companion is simply, “Men don’t skip.” Just like they try not to show their feelings, trust a stranger, or believe in love.

Skippers are quick to tell you that just isn’t true. In fact, one skipper, former Christian missionary Peter Wohlfelder has even written a book entitled “Solomon Skipped.”

Based on his study of Hebrew texts, he maintains that both King David and Solomon skipped frequently.

“I found that when David danced before the ark he was actually skipping,” claimed Wohlfelder.
But, just as everyone has the potential for renewal and redemption, both these old cowboys do learn to skip again. In the end it is the triumph of the inner child for them as it could be for us.

© 2003, Randy Southerland