When the first Norman sibling joined Jump Rope for Heart in primary school, he never would have imagined competing on the world stage alongside his dad and two sisters. Tom started skipping in 2010 with the program, whose participants performed at major events such as the NRL and NBL, promoting the work of the Heart Foundation.
Tom, clearly a fast learner, made the NSW state championships that year. It wasn’t long before he was competing in world championship events in Hong Kong (2014) and Sweden (2016).
In 2018, Rebekah joined him at the world champs in Shanghai. While Covid led to the 2020 World Championships in Canada being postponed, Sarah qualified and joined the fold for the virtually conducted worlds competition in 2021, where Rebekah won two gold medals and a bronze in the International Opens Tournament.
Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter
In what must be some kind of national record, four Normans qualified for the worlds in the US state of Colorado this week. Father Murray and siblings Tom, Rebekah and Belinda will participate in what is probably the biggest competition in the history of skipping.
Competing on the world stage
Remember skipping in school? Maybe you have or know children who enjoy jumping rope. Whatever you’re picturing, what the Norman family does is nothing like that.
For Tom, preparing to compete in mountainous Colorado at an altitude of about 2000m has meant regular altitude training. Skipping is a sprinting event, he explains, so training consists of ‘sprints’ lasting up to two-and-a-half minutes.
Skipping speed is measured by skips per 30 seconds, with a skip recorded every time your right foot hits the ground. Tom maxes out at about 90 skips per 30 seconds, or 180 rotations total – six skips per second! The frontrunners to take medals in the world championships speed events hit up to 7.7 skips per second. “You can’t see it,” Tom explains.
Not to be outdone, father Murray set the Australian championship record on his way to qualifying for the international competition. Rebekah is the only Norman so far to take out a medal on the world stage, with the youngest, Belinda, making her international debut this week.
The event, hosted by The International Jump Rope Union (IJRU), will be streamed on IJRU’s site and the Olympic channel. The IJRU was formed as a merger between the International Rope Skipping Federation and the World Jump Rope Federation, expanding to include 3,000 participants from more than 30 countries. New rules mean new routines and a new style of competition, and competing in the US brings more dramatic flair – bigger venues, brighter lights and major sponsors, including PepsiCo. The style will be closer to break-dancing than the sort of skipping you might imagine.
Christian witness on the world stage
The Norman family joins a large group of competitors from the skipping team at St George Christian School – of the 99 Australian competitors, 14 are from St George Christian.
Skipping with St George Christian School means attending morning devotions, praying before competitions, and sometimes partnering with local churches to train while overseas. According to Murray, the school’s head coach Karen Binns “sees it as a real opportunity to help the kids mature, to love Jesus and to compete at the national level.”
Many parents know that Murray is CEO for Christian SRE in NSW. For some, it is encouraging to find another Christian on the skipping scene. “There are other Christians who split skipping from their Christian faith,” he explains, “and I encourage them that we need to actually be Christians and be a blessing to others.”
Murray recognises that this is more complicated for those who aren’t in the context of a Christian school. He hopes that the presence of St George Christian School will enable other Christians in the community to share their faith more boldly. “It’s so small that everyone knows everyone,” he explains. “So everyone knows we’re Christian.”
The environment also enables Christian parents and kids to have meaningful conversations with others in the community, as they form relationships and share experiences. “We’re trying to encourage the kids to be open about their faith and to talk about it in a real-world way,” Murray concludes.
Tom describes one of the main ways the St George Christian team stand out in a global competition where most people lose.
“You’ve trained hard for two years, and if you make one mistake, it’s over. Basically, you’re guaranteed not to medal. You’ve trained multiple times a week, thousands of dollars, and then it’s just all gone. Plus there’s cameras, and if you make mistakes, you have to keep going, and everyone’s watching. Especially in teams, when everyone else has made no mistakes, and if you make a mistake, you’ve let the team down. But [coach] Karen Binns is really big on saying, ‘Skipping doesn’t define you. Skipping is not your life. Our identity is in Christ.'”
Becuase of this, the St George team has developed a reputation for not wavering in their joy whatever the outcome.
“We’d get comments all the time,” Tom recalls. “‘Wow, you make mistakes, but you still walk off smiling and laughing, whereas the other teams walk off crying.’ The other teams have changed now because of us. There’s a lot less tears in the sport than there used to be.”
The World Championships in Colorado
As Murray, Tom, Rebekah and Belinda prepare to compete at the world champs, they ask for prayer for the team: for opportunities to encourage each other, to pray and read the Bible together, and to be good witnesses amid the challenges of exhaustion, travel and competition – win or lose.
A highlight will surely be when Tom and Rebekah compete together in a team of four in the opens bracket.
While the speed-based elements of the competition may be dominated by countries seeking to gear up for a potential 2032 Olympic Games competition, “Australia does well in the creative events with a performance element.”
Will Rebekah secure another medal on the world stage? Will another family member take home honours? Whatever happens, the Norman family has accomplished a remarkable feat. They’ll compete joyfully, showing everyone watching that their identity is Christ.
Edit: Tom and Rebekah Norman won gold with the Australian team in the mixed 19+ paired Double Dutch event.