On a rainy Friday night, ten young boys are flying off wooden blocks, swinging on metal bars, and, literally, climbing the walls. It’s a young boy’s dream in this garage-turned-gym on the Ballard/Fremont line: for two hours, these kids get to fly around the room like spider monkeys in a zoo.
“I feel like I’m watching a wildlife special,” parkour instructor Rafe Kelley jokes as the boys play one last game of freeze tag. Kelley, a former gymnastics coach, is one of the lead teachers at Parkour Visions just off Leary Way at 4216 6th Ave NW.
This is the kids’ intermediate class, and they’re swiftly leaping and crawling over a dozen or more blocks; one is nearly eight feet high.
So, what is this mysterious sport of parkour?
According to their website, parkour is “the art of overcoming obstacles as swiftly and efficiently as possible using only your body.” It incorporates running, jumping, and hurling your body over all sizes of obstacles. They use props to create courses, a rock wall to climb on, wooden blocks that serve as vaults, and metal bars jutting out from the walls for students to fly through the air.
Most people associate parkour with a kind of urban acrobatics. The sport started in France, where a young Davide Belle popularized it. Kelley and Parkour Visions co-founder Tyson Cecka have been practicing parkour for years, and while Cecka was a student at the University of Washington, he received a Mary Gates Leadership Endowment to start a non-profit group. Thus, Parkour Visions was born in 2009.
Parkour Visions has grown substantially over the last two years. They offer seven different types of classes, from adult basics to adult level three, and kids’ basics through kids’ intermediate. Cecka says they teach kids as young as 5 years old. In fact, he says they once had a 5 year-old and a 68 year-old in the same class.
The gym is one of very few parkour institutes in the country. But, not for long, says Cecka. A gym like Parkour Visions is opening soon in Los Angeles, and more are on the way. There’s even a certification process for instructors.
Kelley says parkour is rewarding in more ways than just having fun. “It’s a discipline of self-development,” he explains.
“It teaches you the mental qualities that are necessary to overcome obstacles in your life. If you can look at something that is scary to you, that is challenging, that is complex and difficult, then you can go through the process of dealing with your fear, and you can walk around being that much more confident, that much more courageous,” Kelley says.
Cecka echoes what Kelley says, adding, “The end goal for us is to run to somewhere we’ve never been before and be able to get over everything that gets in our way. It’s really challenging but it’s a great feeling to have.”
“And also, it’s about fun, it’s about play,” Kelley adds with a grin.
Contributor Meghan Walker is an intern from the University of Washington.