The Pure Joy of Parkour!

Wow. I think I’ve found it. After mediocre results with meditation and yoga, I’ve discovered an exciting way to reduce stress although honesty requires me to admit during this Halloween week that it also scares me to death.

The sport is parkour, also known as Freerunning, aka urban gymnastics, aka pure physical insanity that includes running, jumping, vaulting, balancing, climbing and other movements. If you’re not familiar with this new craze, watch this.

After a co-worker came across this video shot in our hometown of Portsmouth, NH, I had to know more about this crazy sport. Boston University freshman Michael Clark, the one in the neon yellow T-shirt, says few women practice parkour, but maybe I could be a trailblazer.

How did you discover parkour/freerunning?

Well, my story is the classic, cliché freerunning story. I watched a video on YouTube and was hooked immediately. At 14 years old, I asked my mom if she could drop me off at a playground so I could jump around a bit. She definitely looked at me strangely, but sure enough she dropped me off, and now, here I am!

Were there tryouts for your team (Hub Freerunning) and is there a coach? 

Well, the only tryouts I can think of involved being comfortable on such a team of pranksters and jokesters. For a while, Hub started a rumor that I was a cagefighter, and told just about everyone I knew. But in a way, that was a test, because to be on the Hub you have to be comfortable with all the jokes and fun. We’re a big family that likes to mess with each other and the times I’ve had with the Hub have been some of the best of my life. Freerunning is still very informal, an aspect of the art that I find very attractive. We don’t have a coach, we primarily lean on each other for support and to help with each other’s training.

How and where does the team compete?

Parkour is different for each person, and the average person wants to go out and have fun and push himself or herself. So in this way, parkour isn’t competitive at all. Really, the competitions we were in were to meet people who trained from all over the world and have a great time. Four members of the Hub have performed in an international tournament in Boston, sponsored by Red Bull. Two of us made the finals, allowing us to go to another tournament in Detroit, Michigan. Since Red Bull has such an enormous budget, we all had the times of our lives playing on the course, eating five-star meals and making friends from all over the world. These competitions don’t happen often, but they’re just a great experience. It is hard to judge the kid who used to breakdance, next to the ex-gymnast, next to the ex-hockey player like me, so the whole idea of a competition just kind of falls through. Parkour has no rules, so it’s a bit difficult to judge. So usually all the people in these competitions have the same mindset that we do, to have a blast. It’s a great environment.

Do you have a background in gymnastics and/or do you just enjoy causing your folks heart failure?

Haha, I have no background in gymnastics, but my sister did, and she helped me learn the basics of flipping on the trampoline. All of my siblings can do some sort of flip or another. Even my five-year-old brother does front flips on our trampoline, so I guess my parents are used to all the flips and acrobatics.

What kind of training do you do -- did you drive your family crazy by doing flips through the house, for example?

Funny enough, actually, I have a video of me training on my couch and flipping around in my living room on YouTube. I often do little jumps, and will randomly kind of climb my house at times, but primarily my training involves heading out and drilling basics of my movement. In parkour it’s very important to know one’s limits so that one does not injure him or herself. So my training often consists of working on control in my movement. Despite this, I push myself to improve every day. Every day I head out, I want to do something that scares me, so I know I am progressing.

What kinds of injuries have you suffered with parkour and did your mother ever say "I told you not to do that!"?

My parents have always supported me, no matter how weird or dangerous the hobby seemed. My mom thought I was crazy at first, but when I told her my training methods, and how I am constantly analyzing my limits and skill level, she became less nervous. Injuries in parkour are much less common then in skateboarding, where you have wheels beneath your feet. I know people who have trained for ten years and who have never broken a bone. Unfortunately, I am not in that boat and have broken three fingers and have split my head open. I have certainly learned a lot from my injuries. I have refined my training techniques, and have not injured myself in two years or so.

Do your parents know you do this without a helmet?

It’s always funny when I hear of parkour athletes wearing helmets. People rarely slip like they do on a bike or skateboard. I am the only person I know with a head injury from parkour, and I hope it stays that way. Dustin, my friend in the red from above, actually made a video where he wore a helmet. This was pretty funny and everyone who saw it thought it was pretty funny as well.

After not having very good results with meditation or yoga, I've been looking for a new physical activity to try. Do you think a middle-aged woman like me can learn to be a freerunner?

Of course! I founded the parkour program at my local YMCA, and I had students from ages six to fifty and they all did very well. Meditation is actually the process I use to get over my fear of scaling buildings and flipping over roofs. It’s never too late to try!

Find more of Michael Clark’s videos here and videos of his team here.

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