He coulda bin a contender. His words, not mine. Actually, that’s not true, they were my words because his words were, “Coulda been an A-list celebrity”, but the idea was the same. Had he got his break, the one he thought he had deserved, things would have been different. Very different.
The first time I saw him, I heard him first. I heard the sound of a skipping rope hitting the floor, but not the sound of his sneakers softly landing on the same floor. There was only a centimeter, at most, between his shoes and the wooden surface that had once been blue, and it was almost as if he’d just but now had black scuff marks from all the skipping and other training that took place in the small workout area.
I’d only walked to the other side of the gym out of nostalgic reasons. I was done with my workout – which is nothing to write home or anywhere else about – when I saw a big black-and-white photo of a hockey team on the wall, and that piqued my interest.
When I got closer to him, I heard the swoosh of the skipping rope, but didn’t realize what it was until I saw somebody blocking my perfect shot of the wall. And there he was, a rope going so fast around him that I didn’t actually see it, and his feet barely leaving the floor, just the sound of the rope hitting the floor echoing inside the gym that hosted parts of the 1952 Olympics.
I waited for a minute. He kept on skipping. Waited another minute but didn’t want to disturb him so I backed a few steps and hid behind a wall that separated two workout sections. Another minute went by, and I snuck back out, and faked to be stretching, while keeping an eye on him going up and down, up and down, up and down, never missing a step, never making a mistake.
Another minute later, he stopped, and I stepped up to him, and explained that I just wanted to take a photo of the big photo on the wall.
“You’ve done that before,” I then told him, nodding at his rope on the floor. “How long did you skip?”
“I just did a three-minute warmup now, but I usually do 7 x 1-minute sets, with a minute for rest between the sets, that’s pretty good,” he said.
He wasn’t very tall, and his black hair showed some signs of the original color up top. He was dressed in black: black sweat pants, black tank top.
“Well, it was pretty impressive, how many times do you jump, have you ever counted?”
“I used to have the world record,” he said. “I was in the Guinness Book of Records for most jumps in a minute. But then people started to cheat and they stopped taking submissions.”
“Nice! What was the record?”
“241 in a minute? That’s, heh, pretty good,” I said.
“And that was in the old VHS time. Remember those tapes? VHS they were called.”
“Yeah, I submitted mine on a VHS tape. You get three tries, and I did 241, 238, and 239. But when things went digital, some people started to send in videos that were sped up by 30 percent, so Guinness stopped accepting submissions.”
“Really? There’s always someone.”
“Yeah. See, the secret is having a good rope,” he said, and picked up his from the floor. “I tell everybody that I use a 2mm cable, but it’s really a 1mm cable.”
“The boxer, Arhur Abraham, tried to break my record, and he heard somewhere I used a two-millimeter cable so he got one, too. But he fell short. He’s a millionaire.
“Anyway, I bought this boat cable and I cut all the plastic around it, so what I use is just the core. I measured it in my garage back home. It’s one millimeter thick,” he said.
“I guess there’s more to it than the cable, 241 is pretty impressive. Can you still do it?”
“I do 200 warming up, and that’s pretty good for an old man like myself. Can you guess how old I am?
“I don’t want to guess, I’m so bad at that.”
“Wow,” I said, because that’s the only correct answer.
“Anyway, back in the 1990s, remember how the had that Guinness record show in Finland, too? Yeah? Well, I was going to be on it, they wanted me on the show, and I was going to go, and then they said no. Jealous, probably,” he said.
“They wanted me to have three tries at the the record, and I was going to break it. Had I done that on live TV, I would have hit the big time, but somebody there didn’t want me to get famous. I coulda been an A-list celebrity, and you know, that’s when you get rich, too.”
“I bet,” I said.
“Oh well,” he said, and started to skip. The first of seven sets.
I walked away but I heard his skipping sounds behind me. He didn’t miss a step.