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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Geremy Davis practices running and jumping off the side of a tree during his parkour group’s practice at Johnny Appleseed Park.

For enthusiasts, parkour an ‘expression of freedom’

Davis practices jumping from a rock to the top of a pole. Parkour is a sport that came about in the 1980s.

A handful of young people quietly gathered in Johnny Appleseed Park on a hill overlooking the vast parking lot of Memorial Coliseum. It was the early evening, and the cicadas were chanting. The day’s heat was still stifling.

Dressed in athletic gear, the group started doing squats, push-ups and sit-ups, all with purpose. When they finished, they gave one another high-fives the way any other team would. But the people in this group weren’t training for a competition. They were preparing to practice a discipline known as parkour.

Defining parkour can be tricky. The youngest of the group, Marcious Trout, 16, said he’s given up trying to explain it to friends.

“I just got tired of saying what it is,” he said. “I would just tell them to look it up.”

If you look up parkour on Google, you’ll learn that the discipline can be traced back to a Frenchman named David Belle who, as a teenager in the 1980s, began developing a set of leaps, vaults, rolls and landings. The moves were created as efficient ways to negotiate obstacles.

Parkour has since spread around the world with the help of tutorial videos on YouTube. That’s how Geremy Davis learned what he knows.

“Essentially, the discipline boils down to reach and escape,” said Davis, who attends Ivy Tech. “We train to be able to reach a certain location or to escape something or someone. Of course, there may be obstacles in your way, and that’s when real parkour starts, when you have to overcome something.”

In 2008, Davis founded Fort Wayne Parkour, the group that met in Johnny Appleseed Park. Five core members, including Davis and Trout, regularly practice in city parks to enhance their strength and skills.

“I’ve learned that the art is really about self-improvement, you know, developing yourself to be strong and be useful,” said Davis, 19. “We train to be able to last,” meaning that group members take care of themselves with the idea they’ll be practicing parkour into old age.

This concept seems to conflict with the web videos that show other parkour practitioners pulling off risky feats, such as leaps from rooftop to rooftop. Tyler Liechty, 19, said those sorts of stunts are something you do when you’re confident in your abilities – and when you’re a little crazy. For him, parkour isn’t about who can do the coolest trick. It has a higher meaning.

“It’s like an expression of freedom,” he said. “You can go out and do things that other people wouldn’t normally do.”

After the group warms up for a training session, they use the features of a park to practice their moves and improve their agility.

“There’s no competition,” Liechty said. “You help each other get better.”

Part of getting better is overcoming your fears and mastering the mental side of parkour. Keely Worley, 19, knows this well.

“You become mentally stronger because you have to push yourself,” she said. “I get scared of certain things, so I have to, like, break through that fear in order for me to accomplish it, which can be really hard sometimes.”

Parkour can be handy in an emergency. Offering a personal example, Davis said to imagine that a nearby boulder was actually a wall and that safety from a vicious dog was on the other side.

“As the dog was chasing me, you know, through my training, I was able to react and … ”

(He strode toward the boulder and vaulted over it with the fluidity and grace of a large cat.)

“ … I was able to escape the dog.”