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Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Attention all 5-year-olds: The adults want in on the fun. Running and leaping over things is no longer your sole domain.

"It was like I could fly," Benjamin Hardt recalls of the first time he nailed a "kong vault" in the emerging urban sport known as parkour. "It was that elation, like being a little kid ... and jumping off the bed and flapping your arms as hard as you could. The only difference now is that I can really understand the movement and the kinesiology, and I can just go fly."

A kong vault, running up to an obstacle such as a concrete wall, placing your hands on it, then swinging your legs through as you sail over, is just one of many parkour moves that Hardt and four of his Eugene Parkour comrades tried Friday on the University of Oregon campus.

Hardt, 28, a Lane Community College student, and friend and fellow LCC student Tim Burns launched the group, and the Web site, www.eugene, in May. They have only six members but hope to grow.

Popularized through YouTube videos on the Internet, parkour's origins can be traced to France. It is similar to what is known as "freerunning." According to a 2007 New York Times story, parkour is "a burgeoning discipline in the United States" that is "like skateboarding without the board, a set of movements designed to allow the practitioner to pass fluidly and often beautifully through an urban environment without hindrance from obstacles like railings, walls and parking garages."

"Parkour frees me," says Burns, 19, of Veneta. "It's liberating when you don't have to think of obstacles as these giant walls you can't get over."

Parkour - from the French word "parcours," meaning "course" or "journey" - developed into its current form through a Frenchman named David Belle, according to the Times story.

He and another Frenchman, Sebastien Foucan, who exhibited his skills in a chase scene in the 2006 James Bond remake, "Casino Royale," are considered the top two practitioners of parkour and freerunning today. Foucan is credited with the latter, which uses more flips.

Hardt and Burns and the rest of their group usually practice on Friday afternoons. They stay in shape by doing push-ups, sprint drills and quadrupedal movements on all fours.

So far, only one person has found them through their Web site and joined the group, 20-year-old Ben Wilkinson, who recently moved to Eugene from Albany. With his gazelle-like leaping skills, Wilkinson has quickly become the most impressive parkour practitioner of the group, Burns says.

The buildings that make up LCC are the best place to practice parkour, Hardt says. "It's a great playground," he says.

Before Friday's workout, group members said no one at LCC or the UO has expressed concerns about them climbing on buildings or leaping over walls.

"Even though we're not UO students, we've never had any of the security guards here bother us," Hardt says. Without skateboards or in-line skates to draw attention, no one seems to notice, he says. "Our shoes aren't going to do anything more than leave black scuff marks," he says. "We don't really damage anything. Occasionally, ourselves. But

we practice a lot of safety to keep that to a minimum."

Later, though, as Wilkinson scales a 14-foot-high wall at the McClure Hall dormitory, a young woman quickly scolds him. "OK, seriously, stop," the woman says as she passes and makes her way into the building. "That's not OK to do that. Can you not do that again?"

"Yeah, OK," Wilkinson says.

Burns says this is the first time anyone has said anything, but adds: "We always make sure to tell everyone, respect it if you're getting kicked out of a spot," Burns says. "Just move right along to the next one. It's not worth getting shut down from one instance."

Everyone in the group admits that they are beginners, and nowhere near being able to leap from one building to the next. That's not even the point, they say.

"Overcoming obstacles is what it's really about for me," Hardt says. "It's a very personal process. This wall, when I'm going over it, is my wall," he says of a brick wall he has just flung himself over by the UO Student Recreation Center on East 15th Avenue. "It's entirely a journey amongst myself. And that's what I like about parkour."


Learn more about parkour and how to join the local group at
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 17, 2009
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