UMass Parkour shows off high-flying stunts

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They run, they jump, they climb, they perform. The University of Massachusetts parkour club competed in Parkour Day Saturday, the first in what the team hopes will be an annual event to showcase the outdoor climbing activity.

Between 100 and 150 people from all over New England turned out for Parkour Day, according to UMass senior and Parkour Club president Travis Swain, who described parkour as “a movement discipline” and “a non-violent martial art.”

Parkour is defined as “a physical discipline that focuses on efficient movement around obstacles,” according to Wikipedia’s entry on the activity.

Parkour Day, which took place outside of the Hampden convenience store in Southwest, included numerous performances and a competition, for which the winners were judged on their creativity, fluidity and teamwork, according to Swain.

An eight-foot tall structure was created which participants jumped and performed flips off of. Parkour Day included teams lifting one another up and finding creative ways to maneuver throughout the structure.

The event was hosted by UMass Parkour, a Registered Student Organization that was founded in 2008, and included parkour enthusiasts and participants of junior high, high school and college age.

People began arriving for Parkour Day between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., Swain said. The participants trained, practiced and interacted with one another. At around 2 p.m., all non-performers were asked to leave the course, and performers began choreographing their runs.

The competition took place between 3 and 4:30 p.m., and featured parkour performances of various teams from all over New England.

“Parkour is basically moving in the way that you want to. Various ways to get where they want to, running, crawling, jumping,” said Swain. “It involves stylistic movement and free running. Most people do a little of both.”

There were about 30 non-UMass performers present at Parkour Day, according to senior biology major and UMass Parkour treasurer Scott Maxson, who said the crowd was engaged and that “Everybody there had a really good time.”

UMass Parkour, which has about 100 registered members, gives free lessons to students and community members four days a week, and also hosts “jams,” which Swain described as people getting together and training casually.

The club members also travel. Every year, a few members get to travel to Toronto and all of the members go to parkour events in Boston.

“Most of what we do is confidence building and strength building,” Swain said of the RSO, “A lot of people come who aren’t so sure of themselves, not too sure of how their bodies work, how to deal with fear and things like that. So they get to try out new things and figure out what they can do.”

While set-up and preparations were taking place early during Parkour Day, people walked by and picked up Vitamin Water being passed out, and eventually a crowd gathered to watch.

The competition kicked off with a few UMass teams, and the day closed with a parkour trivia competition. Parkour Day was complete at 5 p.m.

“The energy was very high,” said Maxson, “Everyone was happy, free flying, high energy, but at the same time, it was relaxed. It wasn’t really about a competition and no one was stressed out. All the performers and people out there were just meeting each other and making new friends. And all the people watching were just there to have a good time.”

Maxson was not the only one to indicate the atmosphere was less than competitive.

Marc Freccero, a senior accounting major at UMass, performed in Parkour Day and was also present as a DJ.  Freccero is the captain of UMass Parkour and the RSO’s public relations representative.

“When I first got there,” he said, “I didn’t know what to expect.” However, he described the atmosphere during the day as very positive. He said performing wasn’t stressful, but was relaxed and fun, and that he and his fellow performers were there to enjoy themselves and perform to the best of their ability.

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected].