Skipping Town

St. Louis joins a nascent fitness movement

There's something so familiar about Mary Kay Lane's skip -- that alternating extra hop on each foot, kind of a giddy shuffle. When the skip is over and the participants have gathered at a picnic table, plumes of breath steaming in the brisk air, she 'fesses up: "I was trying to do the yellow-brick-road thing." Of course. Lane, already feeling playful in the midst of an invigorating skip, had simply incorporated The Wizard of Ozinto her routine. She was Dorothy, off to the see the wizard. The others were equally caught up in the exercise, some at various times breaking out from the orthodox skip, experimenting with a high-stepping prancing skip or a twirling skip or a backward skip, their faces flushed with excitement.

The first major skipping event in St. Louis was held Nov. 12 at the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in North County. Head skipper Lane, 35, had hoped that most of the 15 people on her mailing list would turn out to skip en masse across the nonvehicular mile-long bridge spanning the Mississippi River near Riverview Avenue and I-270. Lane, a lithe Crestwood housemom and part-time librarian, was a bit nervous: After all, this was her fourth organized skip; participants for the first two, held in city parks, were no-shows. Of course, it takes a few false starts to get a movement chugging under its own steam -- and skipping is an organized movement, in its incipient phase.

The skipping movement started in April 1999 when a San Francisco woman, Kim Corbin, decided that skipping, which raises the heart rate and the spirits, was the perfect exercise for the new millennium. Corbin wants to get the whole country skipping, and she is serious. She works in public relations for a publishing firm, so she knew how to write press releases and get stories placed. As a result, media coverage on skipping for fun and health has been prolific, including outlets such as The Donny & Marie Show, Time, Ms.and Sports Illustrated for Women, all in the last year. When Lane, an avid runner, read about skipping in Fitnessmagazine earlier this year, she got in touch with Corbin at her Web site, www. iskip.com. "Kim then asked me if I would be the head skipper for St. Louis," says Lane. Right now, 38 other head skippers serve as point persons, organizing skips in American cities and towns in Canada, England and Australia.

Lane says that compared with running, skipping is easier on the joints, although she admits it is "not a very efficient way to ambulate. It does, however, provide an aerobic workout that's also kind of fun. You can't be in a bad mood when you're skipping." Lane assigns skippers to three broad categories: "Some people do it for fitness, and some do it to get that "kid-again feeling,' and some don't do it at all in public, yet they would like to. Those are the closet skippers."

Bob Pashos is a confessed closet skipper. He was one of the six adults and three children who turned out for the Chain of Rocks Bridge skip. "I've been going to Pere Marquette State Park and skipping the paths when no one is around," says Pashos, 44, a computer-repair technician from Wood River, Ill. "I've always wanted to skip more, but I've been afraid of what people would think." Certainly Pashos doesn't have to worry about being ostracized or sniggered at in this group. He is in like company. "I really feel liberated," he remarks after the two-mile skip. "There's such a great feeling that goes with this -- it's kind of a special expression of creativity; it's like letting go. But it is difficult, doing something that most people don't feel comfortable with."

"Yeah, it's kind of putting yourself on the line for people to judge," agrees Barbara Hughes, another skipper who, like the others, came to the event after seeing it posted on the Web site. Hughes, 49, recently got into skipping and loves it. "I work in an office building," she says, "and during breaks, a few of us skip up and down the halls. We really enjoy it. I also skip when I walk my dogs, and they just think it's the funniest thing -- they just crack up."

Dogs are not the only ones cracking up. Not long ago, the E! television channel ran a spoof commercial on skipping. The spot "promoted" a skipping video that caters to all fitness levels and then showed a fat man skipping across his office to get some doughnuts. There is even a cynical Web site, www.bringdown.com, that takes a dim view of the skipping movement and once named Corbin "Moron of the Month."

To Corbin, these digs are simply proof that the movement is taking hold. Judging by the running diary that she keeps on her Web site, it's doubtful that anything short of skipping off a cliff could dampen her enthusiasm: "When the judgment of others is no longer an issue," she writes, "magical things can happen. Your spirit is free to soar and the kid in you remembers what it feels like to believe that anything is possible."

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