A good day for Keith Horan is one where his feet don’t touch the ground. A cab stops in the crosswalk? He jumps the hood. A fence blocks his way? He swings his body over it in one graceful motion. He sees a giant rock formation in Central Park? He climbs the face of it and flies back down, landing in a roll and hopping back to his feet.
Horan, 25, practices parkour, or free running, the art of traversing one’s surroundings by jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling and swinging over whatever’s in the way. On any given sunny weekend, up to 100 athletes will gather in one of the city’s parks, ready to “mess with the environment,” as they put it. They meet even in the winter, being generally undaunted by bad weather. Snow can be slippery, true, but it also provides a soft landing for a hard fall.
“I’ve been climbing on stuff and jumping off stuff my entire life. I just never called it anything,” says Horan, a plumber from Rockaway, Queens. “Now I know it’s parkour.”
Horan performs free for dumbstruck passersby, as he swings through the park like a superhero. He got into parkour a few years back after checking out some YouTube videos that showcased the sport.
Although there are organized groups in the city, such as New York Parkour and the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation, Horan and his friends form a loose affiliation with no real leadership. Whenever any of them wants to organize a meet-up, a freerunner will post it on his Facebook page or send messages to friends.
Although the group was recently banned from Battery Park City — a one-time favorite spot of theirs, they meet regularly at Tompkins Square Park, on Roosevelt Island, in Union Square, in Riverside Park and under the Brooklyn Bridge in addition to Central Park.
“It’s not only challenging physically, but mentally,” says Jon “Cagey” Farrell, a 17-year-old high schooler, also from Rockaway, who’s been practicing parkour for the past two years. “You know your body is capable of doing this stuff, but mentally you don’t think you can. And when you finally master a move, it helps you in life, in general. I mean, if you can jump off a 20-foot rock, you can overcome a lot of challenges in life,” he says.
The athletes start with a basic “vault” — using their arms or legs to get over an obstacle. Next is a “speed vault” in which they use only their arms as support. To do a “lazy vault,” which is anything but, they’ll use one hand as a support, scissor two legs in the air, and switch hands before landing over an obstacle.
For a “kong vault,” they’ll lunge toward an object — say, the roof of a cab — only putting their hands on it, and then slide their feet through their arms and come out running. Today, kids at all levels are flying around the park like monkeys, practicing all kinds of moves. Chris Glover, 23, from Coney Island, is working on an “ariel” — a hands-free cartwheel in the air. “I was already climbing and jumping and doing gymnastics, so I just blended in,” he says.
Now he practices every day and is also working on perfecting a so-called “720 twist” — pretzeling his whole body in the air twice during one jump.
Behind Glover, a group of older boys are trying to scale the 12-foot rock wall. They struggle to pull themselves up, using their hands to feel for crevices in the rock face. Suddenly Horan scampers up in no time and starts encouraging the others down below. “Keith has no fear,” says Farrell, in awe.
The toughest move Horan ever pulled off, he says, was running along a ledge 23 stories in the air. Yes. Running. But to hear him tell it, it wasn’t so tough.
“I don’t think there’s much difference between falling eight stories or 23 stories or 100 stories,” he says. “The fall is gonna take its toll either way.” “If you can run a straight line on the sidewalk, you can do it higher up, as long as you tell yourself you can,” he shrugs. “If you’re confident enough, you can do it.” For information about future parkour events, go to Keith Horan’s Facebook wall. – NYpost