Off the wall

Erica Crist

Free running, a French-born extreme sport, gains popularity at Kent State

From left: Freshman pre-dentistry major Loc Dao, sophomore marketing major Trey Kauffman, sophomore history major Ben Altemus, freshman exploritory major Ben Krajcer, freshman journalism major Harry Lorigan and Tim Gresley, Cuyahoga Community College stud

Credit: Steve Schirra

An extreme sport that takes advantage of the urban environment is making its way from Europe to the United States in leaps and bounds — and in jumps, rolls, overs and unders.

The combination of athleticism and stuntwork that is called Parkour was developed in France by David Belle and Sebastien Foucan.

Also known as free running, it is a physical discipline in which the participant attempts to pass obstacles in the most direct way possible. Skills such as jumping, rolling, vaulting and climbing are used to conquer structures such as buildings, rails, rooftops and walls.

“Basically, it’s the art of movement,” sophomore marketing major Trey Kauffman said. “You take obstacles that you would normally walk around and find new, different ways to go over and around them.”

Kauffman is the creator of a group on Facebook dedicated to this extreme sport. The group currently has 12 Kent State student members, but Kauffman said he is hoping more will join so that he can start an official club on campus.

“It’s a way of taking to the environment in a new way,” said Harry Lorigan, freshman general communications major and group member. “You get used to looking at things differently than most people, and I like that about it.”

VIDEO: Watch them roll, vault and climb

Click image to view.


Lorigan said he joined the group to meet new people and have fun.

“It boosts your dedication level to go out with other people who are into it,” he said.

Recently, Parkour has made its way into popular culture. Both Kauffman and Lorigan said they became interested after seeing videos online.

Three years ago, Mike Christie directed the documentary Jump London after he saw advertisements for Nike featuring men running around the outside of a building, bouncing like rubber balls from rooftops to stairwells and back.

This year, Foucan will be featured jumping around the stage with Madonna on her Confessions tour and also in the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

“The goal is to become a part of the environment in order to develop your mind and body,” Foucan said on his Web site,

Many athletes are now trying to master the moves that Foucan demonstrates so fluidly. The most popular moves are gap jumps, vaults and tic-tacs, where the participant runs across a wall sideways, Kauffman said.

“I’m still a beginner and overcoming the fear,” he said. “I mostly do vaulting, where you jump over an obstacle in different ways like feet first or flipping. I’m still working on getting my acrobatic moves, like the handsprings and cartwheels, down.”

Kauffman said the vertical vault is his favorite move, although he can’t do it yet.

“It’s like a front handspring off a waste-high pole,” he said.

Freshman history major Ben Altemus said pushing himself to conquer new structures and test new moves is what keeps him interested in the sport.

“Overcoming my doubts and fears is what appeals to me most about Parkour,” he said. “That and the fact that it is mad-fun when you’re out there with friends pushing yourself to jump something just a tiny bit higher or just a few feet longer.”

Group members also exercise at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to prepare for free running.

“You have to keep your leg muscles loose so there are no cramps when you’re in the middle of a jump,” Kauffman said. “I also work on building upper-body strength, because you use your arms and chest a lot pulling yourself over obstacles.”

The most popular places on campus to go free running are the First Year Experience and Risman Plaza. Generally, the group meets later in the evening when student traffic is at a minimum.

“My favorite place is First Year Experience because there are a lot of vaults and things to climb up and jump off without being on roofs,” Lorigan said. “Nobody over here does rooftops because you’ll get in trouble.”

Contact features editor Erica Crist at [email protected].