Elephant In The Gym

Everyone knows it, but no one wants to say it: parkour gyms aren’t made for parkour athletes.

Parkour gyms are made for customers, clients, for people who may one day become the next generation of athletes – not for the sweatpants wearing, peanut butter eating, vagabond traceurs that constitute a majority of our community. When a young mother walks into a gym for the first time to see if she feels comfortable leaving her child there, the last thing she wants to see is a horde of homeless athletes lounging about the gym until they are ready to train in their natural habitat. The obstacles are built by and for traceurs but they aren’t the ones paying to keep the lights on and the AC flowing: moms and dads are. So where does the spirit of the sport fit inside the walls of the boxes we have now placed ourselves in?

When the founders began to move, there were no gyms, no coaches, no online tutorials, and no competitions. They had no way of foreseeing the inevitable gentrification of the marijuana and testosterone-fueled activity they partook in night and day across the rooftops of Lisses and Évry. The discipline has always called to the lower class; the proletariat requires the movement to stay happy, healthy and challenged between clocking in and out of their work shifts to survive. The bourgeoisie fund gyms. Those with disposable income for their children and leisure time are more likely to pick up a hobby or dabble in kinetic exposure than those who have fewer choices and resources. In short, most parkour athletes can afford to train often outside, while some have jobs and the ability to pay for a gym membership, it’s not a reality that a majority of traceurs in our community can maintain without having some financial assistance.

This is a dilemma that has plagued me for the past few years in my travels across the country from event to event, being housed in gyms and woken up early in the morning to be shooed out of the establishment before the parents arrive with the young padawans that are the real reason behind these paradisiacal facilities. Gyms are not adult playgrounds; they are daycares and summer camps. If you were to ask most any gym in the country (save for a few I am sure) what their primary source of income is, they would say children’s birthday parties, after school programs, and summer camps. While the spirit of parkour may burn brightly within the youth of our culture, these are not the athletes the obstacles were constructed for initially. Often children are unable to navigate the full expanses of gyms because it was not designed for them to do so. Over time, they learn, but gyms were built for people who cannot afford them.

I would like to make it clear that this is my personal opinion based upon my travels across 25 different gym facilities in 3 different countries (give or take a gym/country). And this anxiety is brought about mainly when I think of the children themselves and the role models they will choose to look up to as they see them move across the gym. Many of us are hard-working citizens that their parents would approve of, but many more of us are lost and still trying to find our paths in life. In that state of vulnerability, we are often ill-suited to mentor children on their way to growing into the person they want to be. I know in my heart that most athletes are good-natured and would never wish to impart negative values upon another; but we are often heavily reliant upon each other for free housing or food and transportation, much like the children that look up to us. I can’t help but wonder if we are meant to be in the same ecosystem as these young minds that we will end up molding; I am sure no parent wishes that their child will one day be homeless in their pursuit of a sport that has given them their only respite in life.

So what’s to be done with all of us man-children that are unable to stimulate the economy of a gym facility? Should we be allowed to train and inspire regardless of our inability to pay the price that muggles must produce for class? Or should we be barred from the obstacles that were built with us in mind except on the occasions we have $10 to $15 to spend for 2-3 hours of hard work on our craft? I think that as long as we are running a foodless, arcade-lacking Chuck E. Cheeses, then just as in those spaces, we adults imbued with Peter Pan syndrome will have to wait for our turns as the kids continue to be kids.

The spirit of the sport will always live on the concrete of the streets and the rooftops above, but the gyms will use the name to profit and fund the growth of our community in their way; hopefully helping those who cannot afford their facilities as well as the ones who can.

Ultimately, the decision will fall upon each gym individually. Do they continue to illegally house athletes in their time of need, as is customary for the community, or is there a point in our future when the discipline grows callous, and we are merely the money-making institutions like the CrossFits and Ninja Warriors of the world? Only time will tell.

Follow Jacob Cormier on Instagram.

Illustration by Andrew Obenreder.

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