Rediscovering Columbus: Walls

Parkour offers new ways of achieving your fitness goals.

There’s one thing I think of when I think of parkour—that episode of The Office where Michael, Dwight, and Andy get into what they think of an action sport a YouTube video calls “hardcore parkour.” Andy decides he’s going to take a huge leap from the top of a moving truck onto an empty cardboard box only for him to learn the hard way that he wasn’t quite ready for the advance level stuff yet—and that empty cardboard boxes aren’t the best landing spots.

For the coaches at Parkour Horizon here in Columbus, their beginnings in the sport weren’t that much different than those in fictional Scranton. No, they weren’t in a random parking lot leaping from a moving truck while loudly exclaiming “HARDCORE PARKOUR!”, but at one point they were new faces to the game trying to learn new tricks and flips without any assistance from tutorial videos or classes. It was just some straight up trial-and-error—where your error could lead to smashing your face into the ground below.

“I didn’t really go to gymnastics facilities; I kind of learned all of my tricks in the sand on the beach,” said California-native Christian Whitworth, a coach and instructor for Parkour Horizons. “I didn’t really have a whole lot of tutorials or things like that. A lot of the times it was seeing something done and figuring out how to do it and working on it with friends.”

The same can be said for Richard Skowronski, a coach and lead instructor at Parkour Horizons. He didn’t have the avenues of YouTube to spark an interest at a young age in climbing and exploring his environment—he’s been interested in doing just that ever since he was a child.

But, eventually he found his way to YouTube in about 2004 through a friend and discovered the sport that would change how he went about his life.

“[My friend] found a parkour video and was like, ‘Hey, I think this is what you do and I think you might like this,’” Skowronski recalled. “I was going to school for photography at the time and as soon as I watched that video, it had such a profound effect on me. I just realized, ‘This is what I want my life to be about.’”

Since then, Skowronski as well as Whitworth have been working as coaches, instructors, and general parkour gurus across the country ranging from Hawaii to right here in Columbus.

While many people would think parkour is only aerial acts and eye-catching flips and tricks that make you wonder how the hell a human can float in the air for so long, Skowronski and Whitworth are trying to eliminate this stigma at Parkour Horizons. Classes are set up with a specific theme each week—vaulting, climbing, jumping—where newcomers have the chance to work with Richard for more fundamental concepts while Christian takes the higher level athletes and puts them to the test for completing more advanced tricks. No one is forced to do something they aren’t comfortable with, and once you build the confidence, they will be more than willing to help you through it all.

For them, parkour is so much more than just those popular videos you catch online—it’s learning how your body wants to interact with the environment around it then conditioning it to be more efficient.

“Our motto is to empower people through movement so we want people to be able to have exposure to these movements,” Skowronski said. “I realized, yes we are a facility, but parkour isn’t meant to be done just in a gym. It’s meant to be done outside in whatever environment you are exposed to. It’s about having that basic approach of movement in a “safe and controlled” [environment]—I say safe and controlled in quotations because at any point in life, risk and danger is there—and I think the way we have exposed people to parkour is a very safe, progressive, and mindful approach that anyone basically can do it.”

And those videos online of the highest level parkour athletes are semi-misleading, too. From a viewer’s perspective, all you see are the highlights and successful jumps. But, the behind the scenes tells a completely different story.

“Those people don’t do those tricks just once, and they don’t do those jumps just once,” Whitworth explained. “They do them over, and over, and over to make sure they get it right because that’s the only way to grow. You don’t just do a jump one time. You do it many times until you feel you’ve conquered it then you move on to the next challenge.”

With all that repetition comes a physical and mental demanding workload. Not only are you pushing your body to its physical limits, things like a fear of heights or the fear of pain can create mental stress as well. This is where training plays a pivotal role in the entire process. Instead of traditional training like lifting weights, Skowronski combined movement with lifting to create something similar to a gauntlet: one moment he’ll be muscles then suddenly, he’s hitting squats, followed by more rigorous training to prepare his body for the most extreme situations.

“[We also] incorporate things like yoga and all these other movements because in order for us to last, we need to focus on the recovery; allowing our body to be pliable and ready for those things,” he explained. “If we are super tight, we are going to get injured.”

But, don’t worry. He recognizes that not everyone getting into parkour wants to go to the same extremes as he did. For those people, he suggests focusing more on the technical features of the trick, like contouring your body the proper way when you’re doing a wall flip. It doesn’t require too much strength, he said, but it does require proper body conditioning and knowing how to use momentum efficiently.

As for the side eye glances and upset security guards who just don’t understand what these guys are doing in public when they go out for a day of parkour, Skowronski just wishes they would try to be more understanding.

“I’m not trying to scare anybody. I’m not trying to destroy the property. I’m not trying to injure myself or others—I’m just trying to create a greater awareness to what I’m physically capable of doing and mentally capable of enduring at the same time.”

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