Have you ever watched an action movie, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, as the lead actor or actress sprinted, jumped, and flipped through a city while escaping the bad guys? And have you ever thought, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that!’ At Gym Star Sports Center in Ferndale, kids learn how to do just that, although they jump over foam pits rather than skyscrapers.
“There are two parts to it,” says Dane Vennewitz, parkour instructor at Gym Star. “One part you can think of as gymnastics outside, but with more creativity; you can do flips and things for show. The other part is an obstacle course or chase-scene-from-a movie-type skills. Parkour is learning to move quickly and efficiently through an environment.”
Parkour is a discipline based on military-style obstacle course training. Some elements are derived from non-combative martial arts, although it’s a form of movement all its own, combining running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, rolling, and more. It’s typically done in an urban environment, although can be adapted to a gym setting, as Gym Star and Vennewitz have so adeptly proven.
Gym Star provides many different opportunities for kids to get involved in parkour. Vennewitz coaches all parkour classes, as well as an open gym, advanced recreation, and Afternoon Adventure. A typical parkour class is an hour and ten minutes, and most of the kids come once a week.
“We do warm-up—either a game on the floor or an obstacle course,” says Vennewitz. “Then we do stations at different locations in the gym to practice skills. Basically we use the apparatuses as an obstacle to get past. So we jump to the bar and swing off it and go to something else instead of staying on the bars and doing tricks there.”
Parkour students at Gym Star range between the ages of 5 and 14, and all benefit from Vennewitz’s expert coaching. He’s been with Gym Star for 12 years, though got his start in adult gymnastics.
Vennewitz’s first introduction to parkour? The internet, of course. “My friend told me about this thing called parkour on the internet, so we started watching things and going out and practicing our skills,” he says. Those skills involve not only the technical ability to jump, run, vault, roll, etc., but also the creativity to combine those tricks into seamless movement across an environment.
The benefits of parkour are many. “It’s well-rounded as far as full-body fitness goes,” Vennewitz says. “But the main thing it has over other sports and disciplines is that once you’ve done it for a while, you start seeing the whole world differently. You see opportunities in places you might have thought mundane or not interesting before.” Vennewitz stresses that as students move in new ways, new possibilities open up. “That’s one of my favorite things about parkour.”
The Gym Star parking lot is transformed through Vennewitz’s eyes. “See those fences?” he asks. “You stop thinking of them as fences but as things you can practice going over. There are some trees here, kind of little, but you could climb them.” He points to a larger warehouse sits across the street . “See the railings and stairs over there? You could do drops and that kind of stuff.”
This focus and drive is what makes Vennewitz such a wonderful instructor. His favorite part of coaching kids is seeing them grow in competence and confidence. “It’s great to see a kid get a new skill, something they haven’t been able to do before,” he says. “To see that click, that’s fun.”
Kids will get a chance to show off their new skills at a Ninja Workshop at Gym Star on Sunday, October 20 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.. There will be warm-ups, a long obstacle course and skills challenges—and winners will receive prizes. Please register for the event by calling the front desk at 360-384-3861.
Gym Star Sports Center
5519 Hovander Road #109 in Ferndale