In more than two decades of writing about health, fitness and outdoor adventure, last night I did something I’ve never done before.
I covered an activity without participating in it.
The activity? Parkour.
Parkour, as one of the dads at Enso Movement in North Raleigh told me, is a “young man’s game.”
I’ll be writing about parkour in the next week or two for The News & Observer. For our purposes today, suffice it to say parkour is a way of gracefully going from Point A to Point B in a straight line, obstacles be danged. Participants gingerly vault, leap, climb and hurdle their way through an urban landscape, refusing to acquiesce to stairs and sidewalks. It sounds dangerous; it is the antithesis thereof. The class I watched — five boys and one girl ranging in age from 12 to 16 — spent the first 20 minutes warming up and getting loose. Instructor Alan Tran spent the remainder of the 75-minute session working on technique for safe launches and landings. This ain’t about Russian teens drinking a fifth of vodka, then blithely skipping from one skyscraper rooftop to the next.
It’s also not about a 58-year-old guy using one hand to hurdle a three-foot wall. And I knew it.
Usually, when I call to ask about covering an activity, I get an invitation to join in. In reporting on everything from rock climbing to parasailing to cave diving, I’ve put down pen and paper to partake. When I approached Enso Movement, there was no mention of coming prepared to join the fun. A young man’s game, it was presumed.
When I asked Tran who their oldest student was, he deferred to fellow instructor Nick Faircloth.
“Late thirties, maybe,” Faircloth said with an air of awe. “Maybe even early 40s!” (Tran noted that in Europe, where parkour has been big since the early 1990s, there are senior parkour classes, “for 65 and up.”)
After the warm-up, as the teens began navigating plywood obstacles in Enso Movement’s warehouse gym, their antics took me back to suburban Denver in the 1960s. Full of energy and flexibility, my pals and I would roam our neighborhood, hopping fences, leap-frogging ashpits, using street signs as stripper poles. I was also reminded of how incredibly incompetent I was at this type of movement. Ever beyond my grasp was how to leap a fence with only my hands touching, or how to gain sufficient liftoff to clear that three-foot brick ashpit. As Tran showed his aspiring “traceurs,” it was as much about technique as strength. Maybe if he’d been my neighbor back on South Boston Court, I would have been a more effective — and less bruised — navigator of the night. Alas, I realized, my time had passed.
Sidelined for the first time in my participatory reporting career wasn’t a milestone to relish. It wasn’t one to despair over, either. Maybe I can’t hurdle a fence.,
But I can still ride a skateboard.
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