A New Craze Is Taking Off Among Seniors: Parkour

A New Craze Is Taking Off Among Seniors: Parkour

On a rooftop in downtown Portland, Maine a local daredevil ties his shoes. Pausing for a moment after cracking his knuckles, a laconic Wendell Wilson mutters to himself. "Well, it's now or never".

Bursting into a sprint, Wilson vaults over the rooftop edge, plunging 5 stories before landing feet-first on a fire escape railing. Within an instant, Wilson leaps from the railing and clutches the beak of a nearby gargoyle. Instinct takes over as Wilson swings from gargoyle to gargoyle: one false move could end in death. Hurling himself with great force from the grotesque visage, Wilson plummets into space before making a soft landing on a canvas awning. Bouncing from the overhang, Wilson lands into a roll on the sidewalk below. Picking himself up, he nonchalantly reaches for the shades in his Adidas tracksuit pocket. Wendell Wilson is bringing parkour to Portland and he's 85 years young.

For Wilson, a widower, it all started when his wife of 43 years passed away. After the funeral, his son Jonathan suggested he do some kind of physical activity to slow down his cognitive decline.

Wilson's friend David Rifkin was in a similar bind. While still happily married, Rifkin was forced into early retirement at the insurance company where he worked. The two would often meet at a local Panera Bread to play sudoku and complain about young people. According to Rifkin it was Wilson's idea. "One day Wendell told me about an article he read in Reader's Digest about something called Parkour. He told me he planned on taking a trip to the public library to see if there were any encyclopedia entries on it". While the encyclopedia yielded no results, he did take home a copy of the 2003 documentary Jump London featuring free running legends Sébastien Foucan, Johann Vigroux and Jérôme Bem Aoues demonstrating their parkour abilities above London's lacunose sky skapes to the tune of a riveting techno breakbeat soundtrack.

He was hooked.

It didn't take long before Rifkin got involved and enlisted his friends from the VFW and nearby assisted living facility. From the beginning Wilson was the leader, however. "Listen, if you are doing this just because you think it looks cool or are trying to impress the ladies, why don't you just sign up for square-dancing night?" Wilson would say, admonishing the more neophyte traceurs. "Parkour is a life-style. you will bleed. You will cry, but you will learn what freedom truly means". It didn't take long before seniors all over Cumberland County were leaping from from fire escape railings and practicing l'art du displacement.

But the Portland Parkour craze would not last long among seniors. Before long Rifkin sought to cash in on his skills as a professional stuntman in Hollywood, causing tension with the more idealistic Wilson. Smitty, another prominent voice in the senior parkour movement largely withdrew from the community after contracting the shingles. In the end, Wilson threw up his hands in disgust as his friends at the VFW either moved to LA or decided to spend more time with their grand-kids. Ultimately, Wilson left Parkour altogether, preferring to spend his free time writing angry letters to the editor of his local paper.

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