Ethan Young balances effortlessly as he walks the length of a rail above a downtown sidewalk. He barely makes a sound as he jumps and lands flat-footed on an adjacent rail. He is one of what he estimates to be a dozen people in Chattanooga who practice parkour, or free running, a discipline born in France in the 1980s.
Young started researching parkour after he came across Internet videos in 2008. He already had a climbing background and headed to Columbus, Ohio, later that year for a seminar to learn how to train for the discipline. He returned to Columbus in 2010 to be certified in the ADAPT (Art du Deplacement And Parkour Teaching) program.
"My background in climbing was focusing on one aspect of movement, and parkour focused on many kinds of movements. ... It made more sense to me to be disciplined in more types of movement," Young said.
He likens the movements to those of a monkey moving through the terrain by vaulting, balancing, climbing and swinging.
"The biggest appeal for me is I can go out any time and virtually any place and train. I don't have to have equipment or a certain type of facility or environment. I can do it anywhere," Young said.
Parkour practitioners focus on leaving no trace, and Young says his goal is to leave a site exactly as he found it. It is important to him that the sport, relatively new to the United States, not be portrayed as thrill-seeking or daredevilish. Anyone interested in learning should focus on "slow progressions, strength and conditioning" to prepare their body for the jumps and vaults, he says.
The sport keeps Young searching for new challenges, places and movements. He occasionally draws the attention of security guards, but says he finds no shortage of places to train downtown.
"You are constantly looking down alleys and streets and seeing if there are rail spots or walls that you can climb on or vault over. Exploring is a huge aspect of what I enjoy about it," said Young.