Parkour: Fad-tastic fitness
Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:21 p.m.
Anew physical fitness fad is taking college campuses by storm, with participants bouncing off the walls — literally.
Parkour, an import from France, is a graceful race through urban settings, where runners vault, climb and career their way along, letting no obstacle stop their progress.
Traceurs, as participants are called, leap over walls, slip through railings and even dive through open windows. Think Jackie Chan, without the violence.
Its appearance at the University of Central Florida ranges from late-night runs through campus, caught on video posted on YouTube, to impromptu practice sessions near the campus theater by a group calling itself Renzhe Parkour, Urban Ninjas.
A growing network of Central Florida traceurs are turning up on blogs and parkour Web sites, all looking for the same thing: a place to run.
Renzhe Parkour member Justice Maynard learned to bounce, jump and throw himself off the ropes in the professional-wrestling ring, and those moves are coming in handy in his newest pursuit.
"It's a form of self-expression," said Maynard, 35. "You have a set of basic movements. You learn the basics and tweak them to fit you."
Parkour, from the French parcours for journey or course, is relatively new in the United States, but it has been popular in Europe for more than a decade. A sign of its move toward the mainstream is the growing number of corporate sponsors for exhibitions, including Adidas, Nokia and Foot Locker.
In the latest James Bond movie, "Casino Royale," moviegoers get an eyeful of extreme parkour in the opening eight-minute action sequence. Bond chases a bomb-carrying terrorist, who scrambles up a high-rise construction site, balances along two construction cranes, then leaps from cranes to nearby rooftops.
Renzhe Parkour is one of the few organized parkour groups in the South. Last month, the six-member group was a finalist in a Yahoo-sponsored online talent contest — not for the sport, but for its video. One of 5,000 entrants, Renzhe Parkour produced three, three-minute clips. One showed members racing over the UCF campus, bouncing through a playground and ending up at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando.
The group traveled to New York in early December to produce a video for the contest.
Though it didn't win the $50,000 first prize, members are excited about the widespread exposure.
"All we wanted was the exposure," Rob Ray said. "We got a free trip to New York, and got to meet the other finalists."
Parkour, which dates to the late 1980s, was founded by Frenchman David Belle, who was influenced by martial arts, gymnastics and military-obstacle-course training. But for Belle and many of today's enthusiasts, parkour is more than a physical endeavor.
To hear Maynard tell it, parkour is a philosophy for life. It challenges individuals to overcome their fears and take risks.
"It's not about strength," Ray said. "It's about momentum and getting over yourself."
"Everything becomes a challenge," Maynard said. "You make your body do something you didn't think was possible."
Parkour can be dangerous, especially for beginners. Advanced traceurs leap from rooftop to rooftop and scramble down sheer walls. That is why Maynard and others stress learning the basics first, such as how to land and roll.
"You have to take it in baby steps," he said. "There's no testosterone involved. It's not a competition."
Kris "Rice" Kropfelder, 26, adds, "It's about repetition, not competition."
The noncompetitive nature of parkour appeals to those seeking a physical and emotional outlet, Ray said.
"Unlike competitive sports, you're fighting against yourself, your fears," he said. "It's a new battle every day."
Kropfelder and Ray say the free running also is a great stress-reliever.
"It helps you reconnect with your childhood," Ray said. "I'm 27, married, I've got bills and debt. But for four hours, twice a week, I can be a kid again."
Renzhe Parkour members usually train on the UCF campus. They said they try to be respectful of their environment and the people around them.
"With PK (parkour), everything is about respect," Ray said. "Respect for the environment, respect for fellow traceurs."
The troupe has been low-key enough that it hasn't shown up on the UCF police radar.
"Apparently, they're not doing anything too adverse," said Cpl. Jim Roop, a UCF spokesman. "We've not even noticed them."
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