May 30, 2013

Wimp Parkour: How It Started

Well, in the beginning – you know Parkour, right? Also known as free running? It looks like this:

So I'd been watching these videos, and I had two thoughts right away. I bet you had the same ones. First, it looks like the most fun a person could possibly have; second, if I tried to do anything of the sort, I'd come to humiliating grief within ten seconds. It made me sad. I've never envied professional athletes: that level of specialization seems joyless, industrial even; and embarking on a career with such a short sharp arc seems foolish. Who wants the peak of their life to happen at age 25? But I envied these guys. Flying over rooftops and springing over rails – oh, what fun! What sweet freedom! And such a playful relationship to have with the physical world. Children have that relationship, but adults mostly lose it. Imagine the world as these traceurs see it: a playground of infinite possibilities!

Meanwhile, in my little house in Portland, I was moping. We moved last year, further from the downtown, where I work, and the miles that added to my commute discouraged me, especially when the rains came. Riding my bike was not fun anymore: it was a chore. I was doing it less and less often.

So there I was, feeling sorry for myself. I read the CDC recommendations for exercise – which are sharp and on the ball and exactly right, by the way! I was agreeably surprised – anyway, I was reading these and wondering how I could possibly work half an hour of exercise a day into my daily routine, if I didn't commute by bicycle. There's no gym nearby, not that I know of; not that I've ever much liked gyms. And I've always hated running, all my life. So here I was, stuck. No way to exercise.

It was at this point that some spirit borrowed from those soaring traceurs got a little irritated at me. You have a half hour in front of you, it said impatiently. You have the run of an entire little house, full of interesting obstacles, and objects that can be climbed over or lifted. You have a handy body weight of two hundred and some pounds to sling around. You're a clever lad, with an embarrassment of academic degrees and all the resources of the internet at hand. And you're telling me you can't find a way to fill a half hour with exercise? Really? Really?

Something began to wake up. I got up off the couch an embarked on my very first session of Wimp Parkour. I trotted through the kitchen and down the two steps to the laundry room. Laundry baskets on the floor! I sprang over them. A full three yards to the bookcases. Quick turn! Back over the baskets! Up the steps, back down the steps backwards, hopping back up. Back up to the kitchen counter, jump up to sit on it, again, three times. See if I can stretch to the ceiling. Dash back to the living room. Bear walk to a plank, do a pushup – can I still do a pushup? Yes! – bear walk back to a squat, and stand up. Sprint into the bedroom; shoulder roll onto the bed. Yikes! Dizzy as all hell. Haven't tried going head over heels for a while. Lie on the bed till the whirlies go away. Out to the living room. Seize the arm chair and lift it over my head: trot this way and that with it, swing it around a little. Imagine I've tripped and drop to the floor. Practice getting up off the floor without using my hands: back up, back down, back up, back down. What's the hard part? That first lift from cross-legged to being on one knee. Practice that, then. Up and down and up and down.

Within ten minutes I had exhausted myself. I finished my half hour's exercise with twenty minutes' walk around the neighborhood. I was happy. I was alive. My mountain-goat mind was awake, looking at everything as something to skip over or balance on. It was deeply, ridiculously gratifying.