By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
A young man stands on a 10-foot concrete wall, staring at the imposing drop to the concrete below. The buzz begins to build as more passersby join the crowd, curious as to what type of spectacle is about to take place.
"Is that guy going to jump off?" one little boy asks his dad as they stop to watch the scene unfold at Minneapolis's Peavey Plaza.
A few feet away three teenage girls stare silently—one grabs her camera phone to capture whatever is about to happen. While no one is saying it out loud, everyone is wondering if they're about to start off their Sunday afternoon by watching this guy break his neck.
Then, it happens.
The man leaps off the wall, touches down like a cat, and tucks his body into a front roll before hopping back to his feet and executing a standing front flip. He takes off running through the plaza, jumping from ledge to ledge, executing aerial twists and other gymnastic stunts.
Finally, he runs up the steps into the crowd of spectators, all of whom are now applauding his incredible feat of athleticism.
A few moments later, the rest of the group joins in, leaping from one point to the next, bouncing off of railings and back-flipping on to the concrete below. The older members of the group are taking turns videotaping each other's moves while advising the younger kids on how to properly perform their own leaps and rolls. To the casual observer, the entire scene is like one gigantic Jackie Chan movie, or an urban Cirque du Soleil (only Cirque usually doesn't have homeless guys sleeping in the background).
But for the members of Mn Parkour, this is just another Sunday.
Originated in France back in the 1980s, parkour is a physical discipline where participants run along a route, attempting to negotiate obstacles in the most efficient way possible using only their bodies. Over the past several years, the sport has become increasingly popular thanks to TV shows like MTV's Ultimate Parkour Challenge and Jump City Seattle. A quick search of the word "parkour" on YouTube brings up hundreds of videos with millions of views, featuring traceurs—the official name for parkour athletes, derived from a Parisian slang word meaning "to hurry or move quickly"—flipping off of lifeguard stands and leaping from highway overpasses, and one guy in full Santa Claus gear running up a wall.
While the best traceurs are typically European, the U.S. has been churning out some pretty solid wall-jumping, freerunning superstars of our own in recent years. Because of the nature of parkour, the sport has considerably picked up in major urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco, and...Eagan, Minnesota.
THE CURRENT FORM of parkour was invented by a man named David Belle. He's the son of a military firefighter, and his father felt it was important he know how to successfully navigate out of dangerous situations. It was those underlying principles that sparked David's imagination, and ultimately led him to create a military obstacle course that included rope climbing, balancing on wooden beams, and more. He combined this training with his love of Bruce Lee movies, and Lee's approach to martial arts that embraced adaptability and evolution, in order to create the modern-day model for parkour.
While Eagan may not seem like it belongs in this conversation, Minnesota is quickly becoming a hotbed of parkour in the States, and Eagan is at the center of the action thanks to a guy named Chad Zwadlo.
A few weeks before the big outdoor training session, a group of parkour enthusiasts gathered at Gleason's Gymnastic School, where every Saturday night they practice their moves in an open setting. Standing off to the side, looking inconspicuous in a black hoodie and running pants, stands Zwadlo. With him is Mitch "Skinny" Andrejka, slightly younger and with a freshly gelled Mohawk. As they chat, a group of guys are critiquing one another as they perform back flips, mid-air twists, and other flashy moves. In another corner, a group of young teens are working on leaps and flips, while stopping occasionally to watch the more polished traceurs do their thing.
One young man, maybe 14, walks up to Zwadlo and Skinny with a special request.
"Chad, can you help me with my back flip?" he asks.
"Depends," Zwadlo says. "Can you do a back flip?"
"Yes. On the trampoline I can."
"Go do one on the trampoline—without jumping—and if you can do it I'll help you," he responds, as the kid quickly rushes off.
"This is the only time I get worried about people getting hurt doing parkour," Zwadlo says as he eyes the kid apprehensively. "You get beginners who aren't ready to do certain moves, trying crazy stuff they saw online and spraining their ankles or something stupid."
"Yeah, but isn't that how we learned it?" Skinny interjects.
Zwadlo shrugs his shoulders. The kid on the trampoline sets up for his big move. He jumps...and face-plants.