In his peak fitness, Rochester White could skip a rope 2,000 times without stopping – a muscle-ripping regimen that would punish a prizefighter.
But one week shy of his 78th birthday, twice retired, the old soldier has been forced by age’s cruel hand to scale his routine back to something only slightly less superhuman.
So he walks an 8-mile loop to Lake Benson, stopping on a wooden bridge to jump nonstop for an hour – roughly 1,000 repetitions a day, at an age when many are thankful for the power to stand upright.
“If I’m in a hurry,” said White, “I might do 500.”
White’s habitual grind has turned enough heads at Garner’s Lake Benson Park that he’s had to switch spots to keep from getting interrupted. People circling the lake to get their blood pumping take enough notice of this jump-roper approaching 80 that they call the newspaper to report him.
“A lot of people see an old man jumping rope, and they want to know what’s going on,” White said with a laugh.
I met White this week at the urging of Bob High, a fellow retiree who admired him while on morning walks with his wife, Jonnie.
“His feet went so fast that Bob thought he was a boxer,” said Jonnie High, almost seven years White’s junior. “We talk to a lot of people. He’s very well known in the park, and one man cracked a joke: ‘Yeah, he’s my idol. I’ve got a picture of him on my wall.’ Which isn’t true. But Bob and I think he’s a wonderful example of how we should be taking care of ourselves.”
At nearly 78, you might guess, White carries the body fat of a teen sprinter, not to mention an almost complete lack of gray hair or wrinkles. He came to the Triangle from New Jersey after retiring from a career in the grocery store industry, then took up a second job as assistant sergeant-at-arms in the North Carolina Senate.
He served in the Army in his youth and worked at West Point, but his rope jumping started about 15 years ago.
“I call this a poor man’s sport because you can do it anytime,” White said, “and it’s only 10 or 12 dollars for a rope.”
His route takes him through White Deer Park to shelter 3 at Lake Benson, where once, during his workout, he sighted the elusive alligator that has recently been reported there. “The alligator almost got a dog down there,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was at the time.”
But mainly, when you see White, he’s counting to 100 in his head, over and over until he reaches into the thousands, his rope whipping back time.