My Parkour Story

Photo of Chris Matthews

Once in a while I find something that I just have to share. The following caught my interest because it involves an activity I have never done, and, at my age, will never do. The writer is a former student at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and one of those who I got to watch grow up. Chris Mathews is now a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and doing well. He also interns with our program at Yerkes Observatory, working at the campus radio station, and served as our commencement speaker at this year’s graduation.

Chris has always liked to push his limits. He is never satisfied with the way things are, but wants to try to expand them. What he discusses here is to say the least, a unique pursuit. I want to thank him for his permission to post this to our blog.

FINDING A NEW PATH: MY PARKOUR STORY

 By Chris Mathews

For someone who wants to be a journalist, I am involved in a lot of non-journalistic fields. I love music, friends, writing, and perspectives. My fingers are often faster than my brain, but that's because I have a lot to say!

So, maybe it kind of figures that a blind guy might aspire to be like Daredevil. But to go so far as to actually start learning how? Maybe a little bit of a stretch, but I’m trying. I have picked up a sport that has stuck like glue, and I plan to stick with it. No, I’m not talking baseball, football, hockey or tennis. I’m talking about Parkour.

I joined our college’s Parkour club this last semester, and I must say, they had me at hello. For those who don’t know, Parkour is a sport dedicated to using the environment around you, combined with the natural motion of your body, to take the most efficient route from point A to point B. This could mean for example, that if there is a flower planter in the middle of a plaza, you might leap over it as opposed to running around it. If there was a staircase with a rail, but the stairs were far to the right side of where you wanted to be, you could run up to the rail, jump, grab it, vault over that rail, and swing yourself over to the other side and continue running.

The idea of being able to traverse the environment is nothing new to me, I have been learning how to navigate a world I cannot see since the age of 4.

But doing so in a way much different than that which I was taught growing up, a way that draws stares from passers-by, I love it. Not everyone understands Parkour, and to me that’s all right. Most people don’t see the faster routes I have started to see as I navigate the world, most people don’t care that they exist. For me, that’s part of what makes Parkour so amazing, the fact that there is a whole world tucked right into our own, all it takes is a knowledge of how to use it.

Parkour speaks to me for several reasons. For one, it is not a race, not a competition. Rather it is a way for you to compete against the world around you, showing that you can conquer obstacles and take a more efficient route than that which society dictates. All in all, I like the rebellion and the freedom it provides.

I began with learning how to jump precisely from the ground to stairs, landing on my feet again and not breaking anything in the process. For me, this was somewhat difficult at first. Balance, if you don’t know, is a very visual act. Unconsciously, you correct your balance based on what you can see. So, for someone who can’t see, balance is a bit of a challenge. I prefer to practice moves before trying them quickly, getting a good feel for the obstacles we work with, and understanding what my body needs to do to succeed before trying them out at a faster pace.

Another challenge for me is understanding obstacles. For most people, looking at obstacles, you can gauge distance, height, surface, and from there almost figure out entirely how you would approach them. For example, a wall that stands 3 feet tall and has a lip at the top, would be easy for most to see. However, as someone with a visual impairment, I cannot see the lip, so I may injure myself if I tried to run at it on my own. I prefer to be able to check out a wall before jumping it, to be able to understand what it’s made of, how high of the ground it is, and how best to traverse it.

Another challenge I face is being able to learn the various techniques associated with Parkour. I cannot simply copy the actions of my peers, and so learning how to do some things is a bit of a challenge. But once I understand a simple vault for example, I will be able to practice it and to improve my skillset.

I am new to Parkour, and hope to grow with time, making myself stronger and faster, better able to navigate courses.

For me, Parkour has become a metaphor for life, taking unusual routes to get from point A to point B is something I do on a day to day basis. So being able to do it physically, vaulting walls, climbing on rails, running and jumping over things, it’s exhilarating. And it’s something I intend to stick with, learning, improving, and having fun along the way.