It was more than two decades ago that Deirdre DeGagné was exposed to the sport of rope skipping for the first time.
Granted, she’d skipped in the playground during her youth, as many kids do. But until a troupe from Burnaby showed up at Simon Fraser University to do a skipping demonstration for teachers in training, she had no idea that such a seemingly simple activity could be so gymnastic, so creative, so competitive.
That initial interaction ignited a lifelong passion. DeGagné’s elite Abbotsford Skipping Sensations team has produced numerous award-winning athletes, performed at high-profile events including the 2010 Winter Olympics, and sent team members to all corners of the globe sharing their enthusiasm for the sport.
And now, the head coach is headed to the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame.
DeGagné will be inducted in the community sport builder category during a gala dinner at the Legacy Building on Saturday, April 27. Former Canadian national team rugby star Ryan Banks is the other Class of 2013 inductee.
“It’s like when you decide you’re going to build your own house,” DeGagné said with a chuckle, reflecting on her Hall of Fame nod. “When you’re finished, you think, ‘I’m never going to do that again!’ It’s so much work, but I love it.
“I never would have imagined it would turn out like this. That was not the goal. I never set out to say, ‘We’re going to be one of the top teams.’ It just evolved, just out of the passion of me and the athletes themselves.”
As a young teacher at Abbotsford’s Margaret Stenersen Elementary, DeGagné built her knowledge of competitive rope skipping thanks to workshops through the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Jump Rope for Heart program.
She formed the Skipping Sensations in 1990, when she moved over to the new Sandy Hill Elementary.
“Our very first performance was for the opening of the school,” she reminisced. “We thought we were just absolutely amazing. But now we look at it and say, ‘Woah, that was pretty basic.’ But it was pretty good for a first time.”
The Skipping Sensations took a huge step forward three years later when they attended their first competition in Seattle – the event “completely hooked” many of DeGagné’s athletes on the sport.
In the years since, multiple Skipping Sensations jumpers have medalled at the world youth competition, and the team has attended the world championships on two occasions.
DeGagné has also become one of the key cogs in the sport in North America – her club has hosted a multitude of championships (eight provincial, three national and three Canada/U.S. open), along with many local camps to introduce young people to rope skipping.
It’s been a special thrill for DeGagné watching her former students coach the sport overseas – ex-Skipping Sensations have shared their skills in Mexico, Fiji, Chile, Hong Kong, Thailand, Wales and Brazil.
DeGagné recalls with great pride the story of Jennifer Murray, who taught rope skipping to children in a Kenyan village while on a medical internship.
“They didn’t have any electricity to play music, so all the drummers came out and the whole village showed up for the show,” DeGagné said. “It’s really amazing to spread the sport like that. It’s very gratifying.”
DeGagné said she’s “humbled” to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and insists she’d be nowhere without the support of her family, her team members and their families, the City of Abbotsford parks and rec department, and School District 34.
At age 56, she occasionally mulls stepping away from the skipping scene after 23 years, but it doesn’t sound like it will happen anytime soon. The Skipping Sensations are aiming to qualify for the 2014 world championships in Hong Kong.
“It’s the relationships that (sustains) the longevity,” she explained. “I have an assistant coach whose children are now on the team, and I’ve known her since she was little. It’s amazing, a real privilege.”
• Tickets for the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame banquet are $60 each or $450 for a table of eight, and can be purchased at Hub Fire Engines (3175 McCallum Rd.).