What are your goals?

While it has improved noticeably even in the two years since I began training, there’s still a big lack of diversity in parkour, especially among coaches and other highly visible practitioners. As welcoming as everyone was when I started training, I couldn’t help noticing that when I looked around, I didn’t see anyone like me. It took me a long time to start feeling comfortable talking about myself, because there were no conversations happening, nothing to give me any indication of how people might react. The story I hear over and over again from people who fall outside the archetype of young, athletic and masculine, is “I loved it so much that I stayed, even though…” And every time, all I can think is, what about the people for whom that wasn’t enough, or the people who never tried in the first place because the images they’ve seen don’t include anyone like them?

The parkour community is amazingly accepting, and really does believe that there is room for anyone, but it’s not always very good at showing that when someone comes to train for the first time, feeling overwhelmed and out of place among a lot of people who don’t look like them. I’m working towards coaching myself, and in doing so I want to talk more openly about my own differences, to provide what bit of visibility I can. I also want to start conversations, with coaches, community leaders, and the community at large, about what we can do better to support people from underrepresented groups. Parkour has changed my life, largely in ways directly related to how I deviate from the popular image of a parkour practitioner, and I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have that experience.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour is, without question, the best thing that has ever happened for my mental health. I’m transgender and autistic(though I didn’t realise the latter until fairly recently), with a side order of depression and anxiety. When I first found parkour, I was a mess. I was very isolated at the time; there were a lot of people I called friends, but socialization was difficult enough that spending time with them, when I did, often just made me feel more lonely. Out of college and the effortless social contact that dorm living and student groups provided, and in a career with inconsistent work, I rarely left the house, which did nothing to help my depression. I had dealt with the worst of my gender dysphoria by then, but I was still far from comfortable with my body; we’d reached an uneasy truce at best.

The change when I started training was immediately noticeable. As nervous as I was at that first class, as impossibly sore as I was the day after, I was /happy/. And for the next few days, I stayed happier and more functional than I’d been in a long time. So I came back. And kept coming back. There were days, early on, where I would walk to class almost in tears except I couldn’t figure out how to let them out, and once class started I’d be happy enough to have coaches commenting on how consistently cheerful I was.

Classes let me trick myself into getting much needed social interaction; I wasn’t going to talk to people, after all, that would be scary, I was just going to learn things. But the people there included me anyway, shy and quiet as I was, and before I knew it I had been absorbed into the parkour community, a community which has countless times been there to support me when I’ve needed help, and for which I am endlessly grateful.

Parkour has given me tools to face difficult situations in my outside life as well. Starting conversations is not so different from breaking jumps, and talking in front of people can be approached much like balancing at height. The focus on adaptation in parkour has led me to be more comfortable making adaptations in life that work for me, rather than trying to fit myself into the models society expects. The confidence I’ve gained from succeeding(and failing) at the challenges parkour presents has done a lot to help me find the courage to attempt challenges elsewhere.

Training has also completely changed my relationship with my body. My body had never been something I actively liked. As a child it was just kind of there, the way my family’s dinner plates were, and not something to care about one way or the other. When I started questioning my gender, and later transitioning, it was a source of distress. I thought of my body in terms of how it appeared to others, of which undesired feature might cause some hopefully well-meaning stranger to inform me that excuse me, this was the /men’s/ restroom. I hid in oversized t-shirts and tried to avoid being seen. When I started training, I started seeing my body instead in terms of what it could /do/. Why should I care if my hips are wider than might be expected when I can climb over a wall or land on a rail? Parkour introduced me to a whole world of fascinating possibilities, and suddenly my body, rather than being an unwanted burden I carried around with me, was my partner in achieving them. For the first time, I see my body as truly a part of me, and a part I’m glad to have.