Parkour creates caring community

As sport booms in Colorado, gyms promote inclusivity, safety

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Ken Arrington, founder of parkour gym Path Movement, knows that parkour — in which athletes often scale walls, make 9-foot leaps and traverse rails 10 feet off the ground — has a bad reputation for being dangerous. That’s why he keeps close tabs on the safety at his gym.

He’s managed to keep injuries to a minimum. He said that out of 17,289 customer visits at the Littleton gym, there have only been three instances of broken bones.

“All people see is these kids running around on rooftops and breaking the law,” he said, “but when parkour is done correctly and taught correctly, it is safer than most sports.”

In Arrington’s 6,000-square-foot facility at 8000 S. Lincoln St., students can try their hand at a variety of feats. The gym is a collection of boxes, rails, rings and a 14-foot “warped wall,” all of which Arrington built himself. He often rearranges the equipment so students can have new experiences.

Path Movement is one of many parkour gyms in Colorado, a state which several outlets have called a hotspot for the top sites at which to practice parkour. American Parkour, for instance, named the University of Colorado at Boulder the fourth best location for parkour athletes in America.

APEX Movement also named Colorado one of the top 10 states for parkour based on the number of times Coloradans have searched for the terms “parkour” and “freerunning” on Google.

Colorado was one of the first adopters of the sport in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, the first parkour classes on this side of the world were taught in 2006 by APEX Movement on the CU-Boulder campus. APEX has since opened three gyms in Colorado and two in California.

“APEX was definitely the first gym in Colorado, and the second gym in America,” said Vinny Fiacco, who is co-owner and general manager at APEX Movement’s gym in Denver, 700 W. Mississippi Ave.

Athletes now recognize Colorado as home to one of the most thriving parkour communities.

“I stole a couple coaches from gyms in different states, and it’s because they wanted to be a part of a community that’s growing,” Arrington said.

As for why the Colorado parkour community started growing to begin with, he suggested the state’s reputation for progressiveness may have something to do with it.

“We’re pretty forward when it comes to the way that we think,” he said. “We have a state that’s very accepting of the outliers.”

Although the increase in popularity is focused in states like Colorado, the sport is gaining momentum all across the nation, Fiacco said.

“Ten years ago, there was nothing, and now there’s 100,000 people doing it,” he said.

Staying safe

For both gyms, the increase in popularity means more customers, but it doesn’t have to mean an increase in injuries. Fiacco and Arrington, whose gyms often see 100 customers per day, said the best way to minimize risk is to educate athletes on safety.

“I made sure everybody who walked through the gym took our introductory class,” Arrington said. “We teach you how to fall, we teach you how to roll, we teach you how to learn to be safe.”

Parkour athletes Julian Frazier and Shae Perkins, who often train together at APEX Movement, said out of all the sports they’ve tried, parkour has been one of the least dangerous.

“I’ve been able to manage risk a lot better in parkour because I have a lot more autonomy in how I interact with the space,” Frazier said.

“I’ve broken some fingers and ribs, nothing that was too big of a deal,” Perkins said. “Maybe it should have taken me out. I just kept training.”

As the sport works its way into the mainstream, many of the newer athletes have different aspirations than their predecessors, Perkins said, which may also lessen the risk of injury.

“It used to just be young men who wanted be reckless, and now it’s everyone,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who their life is not necessarily parkour,” Frazier agreed. “This is a power hobby or something that contributes to their work-life balance.”

A tight community

Perkins estimated that there are 10 times more women training in the sport than there were when he started 12 years ago. Additionally, he said the age range of the sport’s practitioners has expanded significantly — a trend that Arrington has also noticed.

“I’d say our youngest participant is about 5, and our oldest participant is 68,” he said. “You can have them in the same building doing the same thing, and that’s what makes it wildly unique and amazing.”

The sport also appeals to athletes who are on the spectrum or have a learning disability, a group that makes up 10 percent of the customers at Path Movement.

“The people that thrive in parkour are the people who love individual sports,” Arrington said. “You can have somebody with a strong learning disability who enjoys it and is in the same class as a top-tier athlete.”

Ayden Perkins, a freshman at ThunderRidge High School — and Arrington’s stepson — has become one of the best athletes at Path Movement in the few years he has been training there. As somebody who has ADHD, he always has a lot of energy, he said, and parkour is one way he can channel that energy.

“It makes you focus on this one thing, parkour, and nothing else,” he said. “It just calms you down.”

Beyond being a fun hobby, the sport has positive benefits for him after he leaves the gym.

“This gets all the energy out, so then I can focus on my homework,” he said.

For everyone in the parkour world, one of the greatest rewards is the sport’s one-of-a-kind community and the strong bonds between coaches and students, Arrington said.

“My coaches are very protective of the kids,” he said. “They’re the unsung heroes of our community. My business would be worth nothing without them.”

Likewise, the athletes are supportive of one another in a way that isn’t common to other sports, Fiacco and Arrington said.

“It’s only about 10 years old, so everyone remembers what it’s like to not be able to do the challenge you’re trying,” Fiacco said. “No one wants to see you fail. Everyone wants to help.”

“We had a competition last weekend and there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole building, because everybody was rooting for everybody,” Arrington said. “Parkour, in its core, is all about the community.”

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