For Stewart Isaacs, an MIT PhD student in aeronautics and astronautics, life has been a journey from one jump rope competition to another. At age 5, he and his sister joined their elementary school’s competitive jump rope team. Years later, after astronomical amounts of practice and the addition of high-flying tricks and flips to his repertoire, Isaacs went on to compete and win at the regional, national, and world levels.
Isaacs has held records as the fastest jumper in one- and three-minute intervals, but his proudest achievement to date is winning the 2017 Grand World Championship in Single Rope Freestyle. “It was a very proud moment for me,” Isaacs says. “I actually keep that trophy with me, and it’s on a stand in my room in Baker House,” where he is a graduate resident tutor.
Currently, Isaacs is a researcher in the Lab for Aviation and the Environment studying electrofuels — renewable, carbon-neutral alternatives to jet fuel — in work sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative. “The idea is you take the renewable electricity and use it to synthesize fuel from carbon from the atmosphere and hydrogen from water into a hydrocarbon, which is used as a transportation fuel,” he explains.
Isaacs found that the toughest part of transitioning into graduate school was having fewer opportunities to socialize with other students. So he joined student groups including the MIT Black Graduate Student Association and founded MIT AeroAfro, a support network for students who are aeronautics and astronautics graduate students and members of the African diasporic community.
Before coming to MIT, Issacs earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford University in 2017. In addition to his academics at Stanford, he stayed active in jump rope by becoming the president and co-founder of the Stanford Jump Rope Team. Isaacs also performed during an NBA playoff game at New York’s Madison Square Garden and was featured in the Disney Channel original movie, "Jump In!"
Isaacs is not currently preparing for competitions, allowing him to focus on his academics and research. However, he still practices two to three times a week, regardless of how busy his schedule is. In fact, Isaacs credits many of his academic successes to his long jump rope career. He believes that jumping rope is not just something he wants to do, but rather something he needs to do. “If I want to be successful in my other endeavors or in my student groups, in my studies, it’s important that I continue to jump rope throughout my life to stay physically and mentally healthy,” he says.
The biggest lesson Isaacs learned from rope jumping? When working to perfect a challenging skill or to achieve a lofty goal, keep trying in the face failure. Or, as Isaacs likes to say, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”