It all started with a jump rope: from the pavement to a world stage

By Anna Mudd

Onstage at Radio City Music Hall, Eddie Yacynych’s back was turned to the rows packed with “America’s Got Talent” audience members. The blacklights illuminated the neon stripes on his white outfit, as if someone had taken a huge highlighter to him. Then, the music started: The electropop tune of Closer” blasted through huge loudspeakers. The jump rope in his hands began slicing the air, his feet tapping the floor. Hitting each beat, he was a human metronome.

He wasn’t nervous. He and his Flight Crew Jump Rope teammates had practiced this routine for two weeks, perfecting each flip, each repetition of the ropes, and each bounce on the huge built-in trampoline. The producers had even brought stand-in judges to create a more realistic practice environment. When the real Heidi Klum flashed before Eddie’s eyes rather than her blonde stand-in, it was if they had already met.

Back home in Ellicott City, Maryland, Bob and Marianne Yacynych sat on the couch in their TV room, their eyes glued to the screen watching their son. They feared he would trip, fall or miss a beat. With jump rope, mistakes are hard to conceal.

“We had a lot of problems breathing,” said his father.

The beginnings of a jump rope champion

Now 28, Eddie’s been jump roping since first grade. “I remember starving myself and practicing like crazy,” he said, thinking back to his early competing days. He’d spend hours practicing in his driveway, the rope becoming a part of him, the movement as natural as his heartbeat.

He remembers the first time he was drawn to the sport. The Yacynychs were at the local fall festival with the usual kids shrieking, hay rides, a corn maze, crunching leaves and people biting into crisp candy apples. But Eddie’s eyes fixed on the Kangaroo Kids, a children’s jump roping team. They were all in-sync. Suddenly, one kid flipped, landing in rhythm with the team, the jump ropes never faltering.

Eddie went home and tried to mimic the jumpers. Eventually, his parents encouraged him to try out for the Kangaroo Kids, which had teams for kindergarten through high school. But Eddie was too shy.

So, his mother tricked him, saying they were just watching a practice. In the gym, the coach asked Eddie to go jump in the corner, then she asked to see his tricks. Later, she declared Eddie had made the team. He was angry with his mom, but he went back the next day, and began practicing regularly with the group.

“After a while he was always the first one in the car to go to practice,” said Bob. By fifth grade, Eddie advanced to the competition team.

It wasn’t always easy. Not everyone saw the sport in the same light as Eddie or others in the jumping community. Over the years, kids at school called him names like “pansy.”

I was bullied for it. It’s so funny because it was people who didn’t really know what it was but once they saw they were like, ‘holy shit that’s actually cool.’”

His middle school math teacher, Ms. Sites, learned he was a jumper and made him perform in front of the class. As the class shuffled down to the cafeteria to watch Eddie, his heart beat out of his chest. But after his routine, everyone understood it was more than average playground jump roping.

Even if they hadn’t changed their minds, it wouldn’t matter to Eddie.  He loved performing. Once he began jumping, nothing stopped him.

“One task of parenting is to help your kid find his passion,” said Bob. “And when he does you don’t have to make him practice or work at it. Eddie found this in jump rope.

His first competition was at their local high school. There weren’t many competitors, but Eddie was scared out of his mind. He’d picked the song accompanying his routine, “At the Hop,” from his parents’ 1950s mixtape. He completed the routine perfectly, hitting every move, jump and trick in sync to each “bop, bop, bop.”

After this came many more competitions. Eddie said he was so scared of making mistakes, he never made any.

His coach, “Mister Mac,” told him to smile at the judges. “I took that to heart.  It became my signature. I would always have a goofy smile on my face,” said Eddie.

Jumping around the world

That year, he made it to nationals at Disney World. A lot of the parents on his team told him not to expect much, warning that he probably wouldn’t even place.

He and his partner got the bronze medal, surprising everyone.

By high school, Eddie was at the top of his age group, placing in every competition and going to nationals every year. He made Team USA and went to worlds in Canada, South Africa, and London. Judges, parents, and fellow competitors recognized his smile, precision, and how high he could jump. Even Bob became a staple in the crowd. He was known to scream “shock the world,” to Eddie, his voice bellowing over the fellow parents.

As Eddie met people from across the world, the shy kid persona he had before competing faded. “People knew I was good at what I did and there was this confidence with it, which really helped me,” Eddie said.

After he graduated, Eddie went to the University of Maryland, where there was no jump rope team. But, his love for it never faltered over the four years. Encouraged by his parents, he put off physical therapy school after graduating, and he pursued jump rope professionally for two years.

Even when jumping was Eddie’s income source, it never became monotonous. “One thing that keeps me passionate about this sport is the rhythm of it — the choreography, the creativity, the music.”

Flight Crew’s mission to jump

Lee Reisig, founder of Flight Crew Jump Rope, met Eddie at one of the competitions. Flight Crew is an assortment of jumpers from across the country, many of whom connected back in their competing days.

Reisig had a similar experience. His obsession began the first moment he picked up a rope. He loves the possibility of constantly taking it to the next level. “Eventually I became the guy who was doing skills that had never been done before,” he said. He decided to stick with it.

“If you’re one of the top people in the world at something, there should be a way to make that a career, and that was my goal,” said Reisig.

Jump roping is becoming more well-known because of people like Reisig and Eddie. Instagram accounts like @eddiejumprope showcase jumpers doing crazy tricks and boost the sport past the confines of school gymnasiums.

“Even if it’s a five second clip of somebody doing a really crazy trick, more people have seen it and understand what you mean when you say ‘oh, I’m a competitive jump roper,’” said Reisig.

More collegiate jump rope teams are emerging too. Recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, Graham Booth, started Carolina Jump Rope in 2017 during his freshman year. The club competes in the yearly National Collegiate Jump Rope Summit. In Booth’s first year, there were only seven teams competing, but fast forward to his senior year there were 25.

“A great thing that Eddie and Lee have done is expose jump rope to more people, making it more mainstream so people see it before running into it on a college campus,” said Booth.

Eddie joined Flight Crew after graduating from college. With them, he performed on Disney Cruises and resorts across the world. He booked gigs like Audi commercials and “The Late Late Show with James Corden”.

The highlight for both Flight Crew and Eddie remains their 2014 debut on “America’s Got Talent” where the team made it to the semifinals.

Standing on the stage at Radio City for that last performance of the show, Eddie looked at the audience thinking “this is nothing.” He had prepared his whole life. He’d taken the passion  discovered on the asphalt driveway of his childhood home and turned it into a profession on the world stage.

Edited by Alana Askew

Kratom: the push for pain-relieving recognition in the US

By Drew Wayland

Two and a half years ago, Daniel Horne was in a bad accident. Driving home from a date with his fiancé, Annie, on a poorly lit two-lane highway, a drunk driver lost control of his vehicle and slid into the wrong lane. The oncoming car clipped Horne’s silver Subaru and sent both vehicles spinning off the road, where Horne and his fiancé ran into a loblolly pine tree.

Horne came out relatively lucky, with just cuts, bruises and a permanently aching back. Annie shattered both of her ankles.

Daniel and Annie were thankful to be alive. But now they faced a problem seemingly without solution. Horne, a recovering addict and alcoholic, had committed to a life without narcotics since October 30, 2015. He and his fiancé now had chronic, debilitating pain they could not treat with prescription drugs without risking Horne’s life.

He had been in severe pain for seven months when a friend told him to check out something called kratom

A second chance at pain relief

“I tell people all the time that I would probably be dead or in jail without kratom,” says Horne. “I’m not sure I would have been able to live with the pain without relapsing at some point.”

Kratom is a plant in the coffee family that originated in Southeast Asia. In the last five years, it made an explosive entrance to American drug and medicine industries, going from a relatively obscure compound used by Thai and Malaysian immigrants, to a substance consumed by nearly 10 million Americans. However, the substance is still far from a household name.

“My friend told me it was kind of like tea or coffee,” he said. “This plant you mix into a drink, and it helps people with their pain. I didn’t know back then that it would do so much for my life, that it would allow me to be a functioning member of society again.”

Kratom has opioid properties, but acts more like a mild stimulant than a true opiate, like prescription oxycodone, Xanax or heroin. It is known to reduce anxiety, depression, and chronic pain for many users, and helps recovering addicts manage withdrawal symptoms. The plant is not addictive in the medical sense, but it is on a similar level of caffeine in the habit-forming sense.

“Part of the reason people like myself are hesitant to use kratom is because of its association with recreational drugs,” says Horne. “I’d go to my Narcotics Anonymous meetings and everybody would say, ‘no, don’t touch that stuff, it’s just another substance,’ but I think that fear really holds people back from trying something that could save their life.”

Local lounge gets behind kratom

Horne’s friend told him about a tea lounge in Carrboro, called Oasis, that specializes in kratom. Two years ago, he walked into the shop tucked away in a forgotten corner of Carr Mill Mall, to a scene of ornate rugs, religious statues, Rastafarian art and incense. There, he met Robert Roskind.

Roskind opened Oasis in 2012 as “a place of sharing and spreading love to all.” After an upbringing in Atlanta, a young adulthood spent in the West Coast counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s, and a decade of activism in 2000s Jamaica, he was ready to come home and plant the seeds of everything he’d learned on his journey. Roskind tried kratom for the first time in 2016, on the advice of his daughter.

“I really understood why they call it the happiness plant,” he says. “It gives me the energy of consuming caffeine, but it also lifts the spirit and facilitates better moods. You aren’t intoxicated on kratom, if anything you’re a little more in touch with yourself and the world around you.”

Users have reported increased focus and sociability under the influence of kratom. Roskind uses one variety, green kratom, to power himself through his busy days and another, red kratom, to relax in the evenings. Oasis sells two other varieties, white and Maeng Da, which correspond to high energy and pain prevention, respectively. Kratom has been their biggest source of revenue since they started selling it in 2017.

About 1% to 2% of people have negative side effects to the substance in the form of light-headedness or nausea. The biological reasons for this are not yet well understood, but Roskind says there may be a connection between frequent users of marijuana and the adverse effects.

“Maybe there’s some chemical reason for it, or maybe those two plants just don’t like each other very much,” he says. “But I’ve seen incredible results from most people who try it. We have about 25 people who buy from us to help treat their addictions or their chronic pains, and we give it to them at a discounted rate. A couple people come in who are just barely making ends meet, and for situations like that I’ll just give it away.”

Horne gets the discounted rate at Oasis, and has befriended Robert in the two years he’s been using the substance. He takes three drinks per day, a level teaspoon of kratom in a glass of orange juice, and says it drastically reduces his back pain and his desire to return to drugs.

“I was a heroin addict, but you could call me a trash can,” he likes to say about his life before 2015. “I would pretty much do anything in front of me. Drugs led me to stealing stuff, which led me to going to jail. It also led me to being sentenced to a two-year long-term treatment facility. At that time, I was not a productive member of society, I was anything but.”

Roskind says it motivates him to see people using kratom to improve their lives.

“I see him with his family on Facebook, playing with his son, taking trips with his family, and it brings me so much joy,” he says. “This has really helped him turn his life around.”

Kratom gets a second chance in the US

Kratom has a special position of legality that many medicinal drugs in the United States do not. It is legal for sale and consumption in all but five states, although trade over the internet is restricted by the federal government. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a move to ban kratom for recreational use, but thousands of letters and testimonies by recovering addicts and people with chronic pain put a stop to the action.

“People were writing to their congressmen and senators and telling them ‘if this goes away, you are going to have thousands of people in your state turning back to opiate addiction,’” says Roskind. “You know, people were saying that they needed this to live a normal life.”

In a rare moment for the FDA, the pressure stuck and the ban failed to go through Congress. Similar protests occurred on the state level, and kratom remained legal in 45 states.

“You still have to be careful where you source from,” Roskind says. “Because in some cases, poorly produced kratom can carry traces of heavy metals. A lot of that is people buying it over the internet using cryptocurrencies.”

On any given afternoon, the Oasis lounge is populated by a few people enjoying the benefits of the plant. Robert can point around the room: “one, two, three, four, five…well, actually I think all of them are drinking kratom right now.” Recovering addicts and people with mental or physical pain are his favorite customers, but many young people use it recreationally to relax or be more social.

Horne says he respects the recreational use, but hopes that the substance can someday have mainstream appeal as a tool for recovery.

“Whether it’s because of that strict addict mindset of not compromising your sobriety or something bigger, with pharmaceutical companies wanting to reduce competition, it just isn’t as popular in the US as you might think,” he says. “That’s why I like to talk about it. To spread the word about something that can help people.”

Edited by Alana Askew

A need for change: The quarantine effect on college hair

By Amelia Keesler

CHAPEL HILL – It was a Friday morning in June. The rising college senior sat in the comfort of her Honda CR-V. She pulled down the sun visor and adjusted the mask that covered the lower half of her face. Her reflection had changed.

Hair above her eyebrows.

A mustache for her forehead.


A socially defined hallmark of self-doubt. A physical manifestation of internal calamity. Or in this case, quarantine boredom.

Across the country, school closures, remote learning, and quarantined isolation have redefined the American college experience. An experience typically marked by self-discovery, experimental whims and newfangled independence. The “best four years of your life,” for many university students, now spent in the depths of childhood bedrooms, forced to find new outlets for self-expression.

For some UNC-Chapel Hill students, this meant getting a new haircut.

“This past week alone, I have had 3 requests for bangs,” Darian Thornton, a hairstylist in Chapel Hill, said. “I think everyone is feeling the quarantine effect.”

The quarantine effect: A desperate attempt to find oneself in isolation by taking scissors to baby hairs, bleach to untouched roots, and pastel dye to virgin locks. A desire for change that is both overwhelming and temporary. An impulse that often finds its source in something more authentic than aesthetics.

“They say they need a change, that they need control,” Thornton said. “Hair is the first thing we go to when we need that sense of autonomy.”

Michelle Li, ‘20: The Vibrant-Tinted 180   

UNC-CH senior, Michelle Li, first dyed her hair a year ago during her semester abroad in Morocco. Her silky black hair was aqua blue, then bleach blonde, then lilac purple. She returned to school last month with a full head of cotton candy pink hair dye.

Li started bleaching her own hair in May after her summer internship was canceled, and she was forced to move back home with her parents in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I was feeling really down, really unmotivated,” Li said.

Before quarantine, Li spent her spare time with her camera, pressed against the front barricade at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro’s live music venue. She captured artists mid-high note. Snapped silhouettes of packed arenas overflowing with strangers.

Cat’s Cradle closed in March, the same month the university ceased operation. The same month Li moved home.

“When COVID-19 happened, I recognized how much I valued my creativity even more, and I wanted to find an outlet. Dying hair has allowed me to do that.”

Li started posting her transformations on YouTube. Her first video, titled, “I dyed my hair again *I did a full 180* (with good music),” gained traction from her high school friends who started asking for their own product-induced renewal. She introduced a mask-required hair service in the familiarity of her high school bathroom. She hoped to give her friends a similar sensation of self-discovery, even if it came from a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

“In the hair dying process, you learn to love it and love yourself. It’s not about the hair color, it is about the newness, the difference, the feeling.”

Emma James, ‘21: The Mentally-Stable Bang Bob

“I spent all spring and summer in my childhood bedroom getting over health issues,” UNC-CH senior Emma James said. “It felt like the time to chop everything off.”

James medically withdrew from her spring semester due to chronic migraines. She spent the previous semester in Florence, Italy. The last time she was on campus, she was 19.

“When I got back to school, I picked up some kitchen scissors, walked into my bathroom, and walked out with bangs.”

At some undetermined moment in history, bangs, impulsive bangs, became a sign of existential crises: a marker of post-break up reinvention, a hint of crippling loneliness.

James’ scissor impulse spurred from a persistent struggle of physical exhaustion. Headaches that coerced her into the depths of her bedroom until the late afternoon. Pounding sensations that kept her from singing. Light sensitivities that dismissed her exercise routine.

A physical battle manifested into a mental battle, taking the form of curtain bangs. Curtain bangs, which became more than new facial topography. A symbol of growth, an excitement for what’s to come, a clean slate.

“In quarantine, we’ve had to step back and reflect on who we are. Cutting your hair can really be a weight lifted,” James said. “I wanted this year to feel super authentic with myself.”

Luke Collins, ‘22: The Curly Bleached Crisis 

Luke Collins had never altered his hair. No dye, no bleach, no unnatural chemical had ever touched his thick, brown, curly locks. Until a week ago.

“The last three months have been the most terrifying, but also most revelatory times of my life,” Collins said. “I felt like I had lost my sense of self, and my sense of creativity.”

Like so many others, Collins, a rising junior at UNC-CH, was left with the option of moving back to his hometown, into a bedroom he was not allowed to decorate.

He called it his “gay crisis.” An impulse inspired by pop celebrities and social media phenomena. A dramatic change provoked by domineering male presences in his home. A bottle of silver undertone purchased out of a desire for control.

“Something so seemingly small can be such a driving force in how we can relate to the inner parts of ourselves,” Collins said. “When I changed my hair color, I felt like I really had ownership over my body, a feeling I felt I lost as a child. It was like a huge weight lifted off of me, the weight from the last couple of months was being stripped away.”


The rising college senior, nestled in the comfort of her Honda CR-V, folded the sun visor back into place. She picked up her phone to a text that read, “You got bangs, and I feel like I have to ask, are you ok?”

To which I answered, “I feel lighter.”

Edited by Alana Askew